I was wondering if this was going to happen, going into the screening of Alice in Wonderland, the first 3D film I had seen since that little James Cameron film came out. I was wondering if the remarkable 3D theatrical experience that was Cameron's Avatar could possibly be matched. I was wondering if eclectic director Tim Burton could somehow manage to, at the very least, keep this surging wave of momentum that is 3D going. Despite his best efforts - although it's a slightly enjoyable film - Burton's Alice in Wonderland almost brings the 3D theatrical experience to a grinding halt.
Is it unfair that I compare Alice and Avatar in the same breath? Possibly. They are two vastly different films and Cameron spent a decade in perfecting his 3D process. However, with everyone and their mom making a 3D film these days, or converting their latest blockbuster to this hip new 3D technology (PleaseDon'tRuinClashOfTheTitans, PleaseDon'tRuinClashOfTheTitans...), all because of Avatar's massive box office haul, it's surely worth noting that the 3D experience in Alice in Wonderland falls so far off the plateau set by Avatar that it will take something truly remarkable to bring 3D back up to a level that people will be clammoring to see it in theaters. Let's put it this way: I was vastly more impressed with the 3D shown in the Disney Digital 3D LOGO reel than the entire 3D effects of the film itself. Oh yeah, the film itself... well, I wasn't terribly impressed with that either.
To be quite honest, I haven't seen any of the original incantations of Alice in Wonderland in many a moon but, of course, the broad strokes always stay with you: rabbit hole, crazy smiling cat, red and white queens and perhaps my personal favorite, walking playing cards with spears. For some weird reason, I loved those things. This new take isn't really that drastically different from previous versions at all, but Burton and screenwriter Linda Woolverton really just add a little more meat to the story, mainly towards the beginning and end. We actually start off the film with a seemingly mad British businessman, some sort of visionary who wants to expand trade routes and also has a curious young daughter named Alice. After a charming little father-daughter exchange, we cut to 10 years later with Alice (Mia Wasikowska) now as a stubborn 19-year-old who scoffs at the British Victorian traditions she must abide by, forgoing to wear her customary corset when she goes to a regal ball... that unbeknownst to her, is her engagement party. It's assumed that she'll marry this dunce of a man, which any normal young lady at the time would, since he's a Lord, but her concentration is broken when she keeps seeing an odd white rabbit wearing a waistcoat scurrying about the grounds. Naturally, she eventually follows him down the rabbit hole and, well, you can essentially figure out what goes on from there.
The extra bits of structure that screenwriter Linda Woolverton embeds into this screenplay aren't egregious fouls that will have Alice purists screaming "off with her head," but they do bring some new elements to the story... which isn't bad, but just feels, well, strange. I guess maybe part of it is that it feels odd to have a story like this being tinkered with, but the more I think about these bookends that Woolverton adds the the existing story, the more I like them. Woolverton also keeps the story paced quite nicely and gives us some intriguing, slightly-tweaked versions of these classic characters. I have a feeling that the hookah-smoking Blue Caterpillar voiced by Alan Rickman could possibly draw some controversy, though. On one hand, I doubt it, but on the other hand... it wouldn't surprise me one bit (See: Transformers 2 robots, Jar Jar Binks). I can't say I enjoyed parts of Woolverton's diaglogue, though, as it felt at times - especially with Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter - they were just going with the goofiest gibberish they could come up with that almost seemed like catering to young children, who will laugh at anything that looks or sounds goofy (See: Jar Jar Binks).
The performances were one thing I had virtually no problem with at all. Youngster Mia Wasikowska, who beat out the likes of Amanda Seyfried and (gasp) Lindsey Lohan for the role, does a wonderful job as Alice, a role that has much more substance in this film with the additional background we get on her. We really get the feel for Alice as an actual person who is going through this incredible world, and not just a character in a story about a girl who falls down a rabbit hole. Johnny Depp is quite fantastic as the Mad Hatter (despite the bits of completely uncomprehensible dialogue) and I rather enjoyed Matt Lucas as both Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, Michael Sheen as the White Rabbit, Alan Rickman as the Blue Caterpilar and the wonderful Stephen Fry as the fantastic Cheshire Cat, who I really really wish we got more of here. Speaking of which, I was quite shocked at how little we see Anne Hathaway here as the White Queen and I was even more shocked at what a dottering, overly-prim queen Burton turned her into. I've long enjoyed the work of Burton's muse, so to speak, Helena Bonham Carter, who plays the evil Red Queen and turns in quite a wonderful performance here. As much as I enjoyed Carter's performance, though, Burton and Woolverton overdid the "off with their heads" lines quite a bit and it got rather annoying.
Director Tim Burton has long been hailed a visionary director, but whatever vision he has was clearly just meant for two dimensions and not three. Sure, Burton delivers with lush and glorious visuals throughout the film... that were hardly enhanced one iota by the 3D effects. There were even times where I even took my glasses off to see if the screen would really be that different, because this 3D version just doesn't nearly bring you into the picture (quite literally) nearly as much as Avatar or even Disney's A Christmas Carol did, to be honest. This Wonderland world that he has created really did look quite wonderful, but if you're expecting the magic of Disney Digital 3D to transport you to a Pandora-like state, then you'll be sorely mistaken.
Alice in Wonderland is nothing more than a classic story dressed up in a shiny new package that is the slightly-tweaked script and 3D. The only thing is, when you open this brand new package, you'll likely want to return it for the old one.