Why Tim Burton couldn’t win with ‘Alice’

“Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Dormouse, and the White Rabbit seem mystified in Tim Burton’s adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland.” (Images courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures)

There’s a danger in messing with childhood favorites, no matter how much they may deserve it. As Spike Jonze showed with “Where the Wild Things Are” it can work very effectively to take a beloved story and flesh it out in ways that add whole new dimensions.

However adding that flesh has to add muscle to a whole body. Tim Burton’s adaptation tries to do this, but just succeeds in adding appendages which get in the way.

Burton’s Alice is not a girl, but a 19-year-old, who is chafing against the plans the rest of the world has for her. When she discovers she is being railroaded into marriage with a chinless wonder of an aristocrat she bolts, chasing a white rabbit she’s noticed running through the bushes.

Moments later she falls down a rabbit hole and her adventures begin

Or re-begin. Alice, played by Mia Wasikowska (pictured here with Burton,) apparently has been here before, she just doesn’t remember it. This isn’t Wonderland, but Underland, a place which holds much more menace for someone with Alice’s now adult understanding of the world. She meets Lewis Carroll’s characters, many of them augmented with the wonders of modern CGI wizardry. Johnny Depp becomes an eye-bulging, fright-wig body-popper of a Mad Hatter, who is still keeping company with a tea-cup hurling March Hare, and a mildly homicidal Dormouse.

It is they who tell Alice how they are also struggling against the murderous Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) whose obsession with beheadings has the entire country trembling. Alice also learns she is the one who prophesy has anointed as their savior – if she is indeed ‘the right Alice.’

Burton is exploring issues of growing up, responsibility, conspiracy theories and responsibility, yet the film doesn’t add up, and lapses into a fantasy action film near the end.

You can’t help but wonder if this movie had come out 6 months ago, before “Wild Things,” before “Avatar,” indeed before the whole new 3D revolution, whether this film might have sparkled. But it didn’t, and despite some great performances from Depp, Bonham Carter, and Wasikowska, “Alice in Wonderland” just doesn’t satisfy.

As ever we want to know, if you have seen the film, what did you think?