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Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland is easy on the eyes, but where did the fun go?


As the opening credits swooped by in impressive, gimmicky 3-D, the genuine excitement and anticipation throughout the screening audience for the new Alice in Wonderland  was noticeably high. However, one could almost feel the life and fun sucked out of every audience member as each minute Photo: Walt Disney Picturespassed. Turns out that Alice in Wonderland is a pretty joyless affair.

That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but wait, isn’t this supposed to be a kids’ film? Director Tim Burton does have the tendency to go either too dark or too light, and the strange lack of balance is glaring in Alice in Wonderland, and as a result the movie is a mess in various ways.

Taking the template of the original Disney classic, Burton and screenwriter Linda Woolverton have taken the source material and updated it for a tween audience (There is even an Avril Lavigne  song the plays during the closing credits. No, I’m not joking). The story follows some of the same plot points. There is an opening sequence where a teenage Alice chases a rabbit down a hole and falls into the otherworldly wonderland. There are those recognizable characters including the hare, the red queen, cheshire cat, and of course, the mad hatter.

Still, Burton’s update feels the need to take the story in a slightly uninteresting direction. The plot centers on magic swords, dragons that need slaying, useless back-story, a whole lot of CGI, and flat action sequences that never really take off. Is this a remake or a Lord of the Rings  sequel? Maybe we’ll never know.

Anyone watching will of course want to see what Johnny Depp  has done with his latest character creation. His roles usually fall into two categories Burton wise. Those are weird-good and weird-bad. For example Edward Scissorhands  was weird-good. Willy Wonka was weird-bad. Depp’s mad hatter falls in the latter category, possessing the madness but hardly the charm or the energy to make him appealing. Helena Bonham Carter, Burton’s wife and another regular in his film, creates the opposite effect. She's absolutely pitch perfect, stealing every scene much like in the underrated Sweeney Todd. Her blend of madness and madcap is one of the only things that generated laughter from the audience. Anne Hathaway, meanwhile, could take some lessons from Carter, because her white queen is over and top and lacking in comic timing. Elsewhere, some of the side characters are cute but they aren’t given hardly enough to do.

Tim Burton has always been a visual marvel, and he does bring his A-game here. (Though, truth be told, after Avatar, everything looks second rate) "Wonderland" is filled with inventive images and stark contrast in color. On the downside, the whole palette does feel dark and dreary at times, due to the fact that the screenplay has written it as a place in ruins. It’s just another factor that sucks the whimsy out of the film.

Alice in Wonderland does wrap itself up rather nicely, paralleling Alice’s fantasy adventure with her real life dilemmas. Essentially a story about growing up and finding the strength to break away, the movie has its moments but remains far too soulless to render it a classic in any right. Burton has always known how to capture the eye, and even the mind, but he still needs to find a way to connect to an audience’s heart.

Contact Jim Teti at itetmij@gmail.com