Alice in Wonderland has a number of balls in the air at once and director Burton–though he does show a good sense of them each while in focus–can’t seem to bring them together successfully.
The potentially unifying elements–like Danny Elfman’s score or Mia Wasikowska in the lead–both fall short. For whatever reason, Burton doesn’t have Elfman design the score to be memorable; even when it’s competent, it just reminds of better Danny Elfman scores. As for Wasikowska, who’s utterly phenomenal whether she’s in nineteenth century England or the titular Wonderland, the film loses her too often.
And that loss of Wasikowska, even though it’s always to bring in the assorted cast of Wonderland, kills the film’s momentum. Alice has a very standard plot–Wasikowska has an unpleasant future waiting for her in reality, will her experiences in Wonderland somehow edify and empower her to deal with them? Even though it’s Alice in Wonderland, it often feels like Burton and screenwriter Linda Woolverton wish they were making Dorothy in Oz.
But when Wasikowska is on screen, she’s able to sell Wonderland’s generic journey. She’s got able assistance too. Johnny Depp turns the Mad Hatter into a wonderful character, acting against his makeup, and Helena Bonham Carter is fantastic as the Red Queen. Both Anne Hathaway and Crispin Glover are painfully affected but they’re always opposite someone great so it doesn’t matter too much.
Wonderland’s a moderate success, but should have been a much greater one.
Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Linda Woolverton, based on novels by Lewis Carroll; director of photography, Dariusz Wolski; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Danny Elfman; produced by Richard D. Zanuck, Joe Roth, Suzanne Todd and Jennifer Todd; released by Walt Disney Pictures.
Starring Mia Wasikowska (Alice Kingsleigh), Johnny Depp (Mad Hatter), Helena Bonham Carter (Red Queen), Crispin Glover (Stayne), Anne Hathaway (White Queen), Matt Lucas (Tweedledee and Tweedledum), Stephen Fry (Cheshire Cat), Timothy Spall (Bayard the Bloodhound), Michael Sheen (White Rabbit), Barbara Windsor (Dormouse) and Alan Rickman (Absolem the Caterpillar).