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Taken for a ride

Alice in Wonderland
PG, Nationwide

3 March 2010

12:00 AM

3 March 2010

12:00 AM

Alice in Wonderland
PG, Nationwide

Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland is kind of a joy but it is not a fully-fledged joy, hence the ‘kind of’, in case you were wondering. Mixing live action with CGI, it is sensationally gorgeous to look at — beautiful! Ravishing! Dazzling! — and it does have its wonderfully inventive moments but I was not transported. I wanted to be transported, I longed to be transported. I thought: never mind ‘eat me’, never mind ‘drink me’ just transport me, but it did not happen. I accept it may be my limitation. I never enjoyed Lewis Carroll’s Alice books as a child: a rather dull girl; a succession of weirdos; no proper narrative, and creepy, creepy, creepy. It didn’t do it for me then and perhaps it just doesn’t do it for me now. I liked Black Beauty. Will it do it for you? I’ve really no idea. It may simply come down to preferring this sort of thing over horses with real stories to tell.


A sequel of sorts, the film opens with a young Alice suffering from (what she thinks are) bad dreams about a peculiar world full of weird, talking creatures and then spools forward to Alice (Mia Wasikowska; a total babe) as a 19-year-old about to be married off to a man she does not love. This is Hamish, a posh, ginger-haired prig, and, forced to choose between becoming his wife or disappearing down a rabbit hole, she chooses the rabbit hole, as you very well might if someone was forcing you to marry Simon Heffer, say. Down, down, down, she hurtles, little blue dress all akimbo and, at least initially, it is quite exciting, although I don’t think it has anything to do with the 3D. I think it would be quite exciting in any dimension. I can’t get too worked up about 3D but do think it’s all about spectacle rather than story-telling, and it’s good story-telling that actually makes a film fully immersive, but that’s an argument for another day. (Tomorrow? 3 p.m.? Your place? OK. And while I don’t demand snacks, they are always appreciated.)

Wonderland — or Underland, as it is properly called; Alice got it wrong on her first visit — is fantastic and hallucinatory and a joy. It’s like moving though a series of vivid, lush, spectacular artworks. But the look of a film can’t sustain a film and yet nothing else quite matches it. Nothing else comes near it, even. Alice is reacquainted with the creatures of her childhood: the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen); the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry); Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum (Matt Lucas, with his lovely fat cheeks) but never emotionally engages with them, so we don’t either. It’s like she’s some kind of tour guide; there simply to lead us from one digital wonder to the next. It’s that succession of weirdos and, chief among them, is Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. He is all orange fright wig and bulging CGI eyes. He twitches. He girns. He does his bipolar shtick. He employs a comedy accent that goes from lisping English effete to hard-core Scottish for no reason I could fathom. I felt I’d seen this particular Depp performance before and do you know why? Because I so have. In fact, Depp doing bonkers might even be quite boring now. It’s old hat. As for Alice, she is a babe and her hair is always nice but she is dull, dull, dull. Even Bubbles, my goldfish, has more personality and he doesn’t have much of one. (‘Thanks,’ says Bubbles. ‘Thanks a lot.’)

The story has been beefed up, although perhaps rather cynically. It all revolves around Underland being enslaved by the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter, who is all tiny body and hydrocephalic head), much against the wishes of her sister, the good White Queen, played by an entirely forgettable and spookily languid Anne Hathaway. This matter, it transpires, can be resolved only if Alice slays the Jabberwocky, and this can only lead to one thing: one of those big Hollywood battles so common in modern fantasy-adventure films. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Golden Compass, The Chronicles of Narnia. They all end in our plucky hero bringing down some fearsome beast, and so too does this. It’s horribly generic. This is a Disney film and it feels like a Disney film, whereas I’d hoped it would feel like a Tim Burton film. Also, there aren’t really any horses in it.

Alice has heft as a visual experience, but no heft otherwise. It just isn’t meaningful; doesn’t blend reality and imagination in the way, say, that Pan’s Labyrinth did. It’s more like a theme-park ride. But, like I said, perhaps it’s just me, and you’ll do better. By the way, I was only joking about Simon Heffer. I’d marry him tomorrow but, having just looked, can now see I’m busy. Damn.


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