By Xan Brooks/THE GUARDIAN
The films of Tim Burton are not so much released as laid on, staged and mounted like lavish masked balls. The interiors are opulent and the tables piled high with all manner of intoxicating delicacies to eat and drink. With Alice in Wonderland, the director may well have outdone himself.Burton's latest pitches its heroine headfirst on a return trip down the rabbit-hole. At the bottom, Alice runs across murderers, madmen and dragons, but proceeds to treat them all with the same wry acceptance, reasoning this is her dream so she can therefore behave as she pleases. It is an attitude that Burton clearly approves of. The books of Lewis Carroll may have provided his underpinning and inspiration, but he sets about Wonderland with a giddy irreverence. It is his film and he can do what he likes.
Newcomer Mia Wasikowska (a dead ringer for the young Gwyneth Paltrow) plays our lissome Victorian heroine, now nudging 20, who returns to wrest Wonderland from the clutches of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and deliver it back to the White one (Anne Hathaway). Along the way, she meets her old forgotten friends, who initially fear they may have been landed with an impostor ("the Wrong Alice"). If the plot sounds like a rehash of Steven Spielberg's Hook (in which Robin Williams played a middle-aged Peter Pan), rest assured that the similarities are merely cosmetic. Alice in Wonderland is lighter and more playful, juggling its themes of fairytale good and evil until the colours blur.
If anything, Burton appears more enamoured of his turbulent supporting characters than the insipidly beautiful Alice. Johnny Depp gives a lively performance as the cracked and clownish Mad Hatter, while Bonham Carter's Red Queen proves a strident, capricious delight. Staring imperiously from an oversized, computer-generated head, the queen manages the unlikely feat of being at once utterly grotesque and alarmingly sexy.
Alice in Wonderland whisks 3D live action with animation, antique storybook illustrations with the aesthetics of an 80s goth video. Does it amount to anything more than a dizzy whirl? Well, possibly not. Here is a film in which the art direction eats the magic cake and swells to giant proportions, while the script drinks from the magic vial and shrinks away to insignificance. But no one ever looked to Burton for nuanced human drama and stately character development. Instead, we turn to him for flamboyance, spectacle and a benign whiff of madness. Alice in Wonderland provides all that in abundance. It is a glorious feast for the senses that fades away when the credits roll, leaving barely the trace of a hangover.
By Kate Muir/The London Times
Never have toves been so slithy or a film so brillig. Tim Burton’s spectacular reimagining of Alice in Wonderland, which has its royal premiere in London tonight, takes Lewis Carroll’s famous Jabberwocky poem and makes it a 3D - epic for the next generation.
Traditionalists may quibble with Burton’s gothic ride through the Alice books, but his hallucinogenic humour is true to the originals. Plus, you don’t get a cast any better than this. The standouts are Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen with a bulbous head and a venomous tongue, using a live pig as a footstool, and Alice herself, played by the Australian actress Mia Wasikowska with frowning confidence, and not a drop of soppiness.
The characters may be familiar but the plot deviates insanely from the original. Down the rabbit hole, Alice still finds the "Drink Me" potion and varies from six inches to 20ft tall, attends the Mad Hatter's tea party and confronts the Red Queen, but Burton brings Alice's dream closer to his more-favoured nightmares.
Each scene offers a British luvvie in phantasmagorial disguise. Alan Rickman voices the caterpillar, and perhaps inevitably the Cheshire Cat speaks with the smug voice of Stephen Fry. Tweedledum and Tweedledee are a digitally-manipulated Matt Lucas, and Paul Whitehouse is the disturbed March Hare, prone to throwing crockery. And the squeaky dormouse, who pokes out the Bandersnatch’s eyeball with a needle, is our very own Barbara Windsor.
Unfortunately Johnny Depp has too much of Willy Wonka lingering about him as he plays the Mad Hatter, who is promoted to a modern buddy role with Alice. His madness, perhaps induced like his red hair by mercury once used by hatters, is indicated by his breaking into a gruff Scottish accent. Anne Hathaway’s character as the White Queen was, said Burton, based on Nigella Lawson. This running joke becomes clear in the lipsmacking potion scene.
The creepy fantasy landscapes and kooky costumes have gestated brilliantly on Burton’s famous drawing board, but 3D effects superimposed after filming seem unnecessary. The miraculous beasts and lurid tropical flowers could have come from Avatar.
Carroll probably never saw Alice as an action-adventure movie with huge battle scenes between red and white armies. Yet John Tenniel’s original illustrations percolate through the film, and the Jabberwock is a near facsimile - except its eyes light up.
The Frumious Bandersnatch is more worrying. No longer worth shunning, the beast has been turned by Disney’s Imagineers and into a cute, growly brown-spotted monster. Ditto the Cheshire cat, who resembles a grubby Garfield, no doubt next to be seen in ToysRus.
Commercial considerations have also made Alice 19 years old, for the all-important teen market. Burton lets her break the Victorian mould and become an empowering, feminist figure as she puts on some Joan of Arc armour, grabs the vorpal sword, and roars “off with your head” at the Jabberwock. In all, a fantastic film that gets curiouser and curiouser.