Wonder why Tim Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland' is so wonderful?
In the next couple of days we'll see what most of the critics think about Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" -- most of the reviews, like this one from EW's Owen Gleiberman, are decidedly mixed -- but I have to say that I pretty much fell in love with the film while watching it Tuesday night in 3-D at IMAX's in-house screening room in Santa Monica. One reason the movie is so captivating is that Burton really was born to direct a Lewis Carroll story. It plays to almost all his strengths, in particular his deft merry-go-round-style imagination.
And seeing "Alice" in 3-D is quite a head trip. In fact, I'd argue that, after "Avatar," no movie benefits more from the dazzling depth of field that 3-D provides than "Alice," and no director has made better use of the medium's sumptuousness than Burton, who gets to indulge in all sorts of playful visual trickery. As with most Burton movies, it's not the story that grabs you so much as the movie's unique tone of voice -- it feels as if you're watching a Carroll story, narrated by an eccentric Victorian gentleman who's been sipping tea liberally dosed with hallucinogens.
But what really makes "Alice" so wonderful is that it offers a grand showcase for several generations' worth of stellar British and Australian acting talent, from the ageless Christopher Lee, who voices the Jabberwocky, to young Mia Wasikowska, who plays the 19-year-old Alice with both irreverence and innocence. We are treated to a sly turn from Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat, always vanishing in a puff of smoke; a hilariously droll Alan Rickman as the Blue Caterpillar; an earnest Timothy Spall as Bayard the Bloodhound; a sharp-tongued Michael Sheen as the White Rabbit; and the incomparable Helena Bonham Carter as the haughty, bulbous-headed Red Queen. (Who knows when the academy will ever give a serious acting nomination to a voice actor, but Carter certainly deserves one for this role.)
I suspect that even critics who are left cold by the picture will still be willing to offer plenty of plaudits to Johnny Depp, who gets to monkey around with a goofy Scottish accent and plays the Mad Hatter with a sad-eyed streak of melancholy, as if he were an artist whose gifts were no longer appreciated. Anne Hathaway does seem miscast as the White Queen -- she seems a little lost in the part -- but it's one of the few missteps in the film, which if nothing else, reminds us that there is plenty of room for great acting in the new world of 3-D animation.
Photo: Johnny Depp in "Alice in Wonderland." Credit: Disney Enterprises.