Alice in Wonderland (PG)
This magnificent 3D phantasmagoria proves once again that Tim Burton retains the power to amaze by reinventing (or reimagining) classic tales for modern audiences.
Lewis Carroll’s weird fable about a young girl thrust into an alternate world of bloody red queens, talking rabbits, mad hatters and fire-breathing jabberwocks emerges as a whacked-out acid trip of considerable ingenuity.
Beginning above ground at an excruciating society ball at which 19-year-old Alice is to become engaged to a dull aristocrat, the film rapidly plummets below the earth to ‘Underland’.
Immediately Alice is pitched into a mad, bad dream in which the psychotic Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter with a bulbous head) rules with an iron fist.
Alice is feted by some as a saviour; by others as a doppelganger. Quite simply, she will have to fulfil her destiny by slaying the fearsome jabberwocky and restoring order (and the White Queen) to Underland.
Carroll and Burton make a perfect team. The dark fairytale atmosphere of Carroll’s book is balanced by Burton’s careful use of CGI and green-screen effects to present a film that exists alongside The Wizard of Oz, the Narnia films and The Lord of the Rings saga whilst simultaneously embracing the work of TH White.
The strength of Alice in Wonderland is in the astonishing ensemble cast headed by Johnny Depp as a mad-eyed, flame-haired loon who drifts through an array of accents.
Anne Hathaway glides through the action as the White Queen, Crispin Glover makes a welcome return to blockbuster movies as Stayne, the Red Queen’s lackey and everyone from Christopher Lee and Timothy Spall to Stephen Fry and Alan Rickman give voice to the denizens of Underland.
Visually thrilling, Burton’s unique take on this children’s adventure frequently ventures into bleak territory, notably with its depiction of a blasted, ravaged landscape. Throw in some startling moments – such as a mouse spearing and removing the eyeball of the terrifying Bandersnatch with its sword – and Wonderland takes on a dark, gruesome hue.
All praise aside there are moments of near torpor when little appears to be happening. Crucially, Linda Woolverton’s screenplay is less about Alice (ethereal Aussie beauty Mia Wasikowska) than it is about Depp’s Mad Hatter, and it speeds to what feels to be a rather rushed and unsatisfying conclusion.