Skip to content

At The Movies With Peter Clease: Alice in Wonderland

In the world of Burton, invention is scattered in limitless abundance; dreams are deemed reality, just as reality, in short supply, is judged as a dream; and nightmarish atmosphere--sleepily moving--is attendant, in mind, at all times.

In the world of Burton, invention is scattered in limitless abundance; dreams are deemed reality, just as reality, in short supply, is judged as a dream; and nightmarish atmosphere--sleepily moving--is attendant, in mind, at all times. To present, literally: Burton's self-assured visual expansion, and, for that matter, conjured imaginaries, work as an ambitious foray into moody tones and depressive--or joyous--characterizations. But, in the aftermath of such realizations, the wily director receives, along with ample praise, a justifiable accusation: style over substance. Simply put, Burton is the modern Dr. Jekyll, repressing the devious Mr. Hyde--a peculiar embodiment which emphasizes the torn, inner struggle between boundless revelations and expanded traditionalism. Making matters worse, the man's wits are against him as they crosscut between doctor and sadist, erratically moving back and forth, side to side. Who to waver to?

Down the rabbit hole she falls, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is plopped into a room full of tiny doors and large tables--what an odd dream, she thinks to herself. Is it a dream or, in fact, an alternate world, inhabited by Queens with large heads and white dressings--and mad Hatters and grinning cats and wise caterpillars? She emerges from the room into a fantastical world, assured by the White Rabbit that she is the right Alice and that she has been here before. But is she the right Alice, falling down the rabbit hole--oh, so long ago? I tease: perhaps. However, the more pertinent question, at the immediate viewer's attention, is will this Burton film supply a sufficient entertainment?

On such an altered scale, Burton could be extraordinary--shockingly original with sensational oddities (example: "Ed Wood"); tamed, toned done in weirdness, visa vie "Batman"; or he can conclude with a train-wreck--enter 2001's "Planet of the Apes." Here, with "Alice in Wonderland," Burton--true to form--has crafted a mesh-mash of a dreamlike narrative with derivative action, adhering to a non-category, which amounts to a disappointment. What is truly frustrating about this film is that, while drenched in illusionistic mysticism--mysterious mysticism--and strangeness and wit, it is a disjointed conundrum that fails to engage its fruitful beginnings. Strangely, it is uncommonly shapeless; it begins rich and engaging, but it lacks something--a third act.

Three popcorns out of 5.