Finally got around to seeing Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (I know, old news). I had already lowered my expectations after hearing the mixed word of mouth, but even so the film was disappointing, especially to a die hard Burton fan.
I knew something was wrong when the film lacked an opening credits sequence (a memorable staple of all the other movies he has directed). The opening in Victorian London is competently handled and feels like a standard period costume film. The contrast with the arrival in Wonderland (or "Underland") would have worked even better if these opening scenes had been in 2D. The journey down the rabbit hole is an impressive sequence that really sells the 3D.
When Alice begins to meet all the familiar characters the film is at its most fun, even if many of the characters, such as Tweedledum and Tweedledee and Stayne (Crispin Glover's head stuck on a CG body) are embarrassingly fake-looking. In fact, as pretty as the visuals are, they all have an artificial quality that looks even worse in the 2D version of the film. Never before has Burton relied so much on CG, and it does his vision no favours. Luckily, the talented voice cast (which includes Michael Sheen as the white rabbit and Alan Rickman as the caterpillar) help make the animal characters feel slightly more real.
The introduction of the Queen of Hearts, where she interrogates her toads to find out which one ate her tarts, is a hoot. The Mad Hatter, despite his prominence in the marketing, is introduced quite late in the film. From here on the plot becomes even more predictable. The standard big battle at the end is without peril and Alice defeats the jabberwocky (voiced by the underused Christopher Lee) too quickly and easily. Alice does look very fetching in her armour, though.
All that's left is a girl power coda back in England and, the final insult, a freakin' Avril Lavigne song over the end credits (why, Timmy, why?)
To sum up the good parts: the cast is good - Mia Wasikowska (who threatens to lose both her clothes and the film's PG rating throughout) is fine if a little bland as Alice, though making her 19 is an odd choice that robs the tale of much of its childlike wonder. Johnny Depp is just doing his shtick (including an accent that goes from lispy English to Scottish to God knows what) and his only really good moments are when he quotes Lewis Carroll. Helena Bonham Carter has a lot more fun in her role than Anne Hathaway as her sister, and the supporting British cast is full of delightful actors (hey, Michael Gough is still alive!)
Danny Elfman's score is lovely and the costumes are fun. Beyond that, there isn't much heart in the film. The remake/sequel idea reminds me most of Steven Spielberg's Hook, though Alice isn't quite as sappy and misguided. It's just depressing to see such an idiosyncratic director make such a bland, dare I say "Disneyfied" movie.
And the less said about the Hatter's (long-awaited) futterwack dance the better.