"You've lost your muchness," Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter remarks to his newly shrunken teenage friend, and much the same could be said of Tim Burton in the wake of his encounter with a Victorian-era heroine of imaginative powers even wilder than his own. Quite like what one would expect from such a match of filmmaker and material and also something less, this "Alice in Wonderland" has its moments of delight, humor and bedazzlement. But it also becomes more ordinary as it goes along, building to a generic battle climax similar to any number of others in CGI-heavy movies of the past few years. A humongous Disney promo effort and inevitable curiosity about the first post-"Avatar" 3D extravaganza will pull wondrous early B.O. numbers, although long-term forecast could become clouded by the imminent arrival of further high-profile kid-friendly features.
It all seemed like such a natural fit -- Burton and Lewis Carroll, Depp as the key component in fiction's most eccentric tea party, and 3D put at the service of a story offering unlimited visual possibilities. Not that it's gone all wrong; not entirely. But for all its clever design, beguiling creatures and witty actors, the picture feels far more conventional than it should; it's a Disney film illustrated by Burton, rather than a Burton film that happens to be released by Disney.
Although it draws heavily upon both Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (published in 1865) and "Through the Looking Glass" (1871), the script by Linda Woolverton (a Disney standard-bearer with a major hand in "Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King" and "Mulan") crucially skews the material by advancing the leading lady's age from pre-pubescence to 19. The main upshot of the change is that this trip to Underland, as it's referred to here, becomes Alice's second, not first. The not-inconsiderable benefit is that enables Alice to be played by Mia Wasikowska, an actress of willowy, Gwyneth Paltrowesque beauty but, more important here, of a pale but powerful resolve that confers upon the picture any gravity it may possess.
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