Thirteen years after her initial visit to “Underland” (she mistakenly calls it “Wonderland”), Alice is back, and while the scenery might have gotten a shade darker, the adventures seem to have stayed the same. Using the excuse that Alice simply forgot her previous trip due to her very young age, overly familiar predicaments are reenacted and feel derivative of more than just Lewis Carroll’s writing – giant beasts are bland and recycled and a battle straight out of Narnia finds its way into the climax. At least the Mad Hatter had time to brush up on his sword-fighting skills during the interim.
Plagued throughout childhood by nightmares of white rabbits and grinning cats, Alice Kingsley (Mia Wasikoswka) now finds herself a rebellious 19-year-old in London exhausted by the aristocracy and boorish socialites that surround her. When a snobbish suitor proposes to her, the bewildered Alice flees and once again falls down the rabbit’s hole into “Underland”. This time, however, the magical world is even more distressed as the vile Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) rules with fear, hatred, and the threat of annihilation by the monstrous, winged Jabberwocky. Initially reluctant to help, Alice eventually accepts her fate and with the aid of the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) and many more curious creatures, the young girl sets out to defeat the evil usurper and restore power to the peaceful White Queen (Anne Hathaway).
It’s a shame that Tim Burton’s ideas had to be stifled by the boundaries of sticking to the Alice in Wonderland stories. There’s a fine line between good weird and bad weird. Burton and Wonderland seem like a perfect match, but without a Burtonesque twist to the story, there really are no unique elements and the weirdness quickly turns to ridiculousness; the nonsensical bits were supposed to be fun, not uninventive; the original Wonderland was hilariously absurd, not swords-and-sorcery epic. The visuals would have been the key note of change for the beloved tale, but their impressiveness is split: the character designs are all underwhelming (except for the Red Queen), the sets are grand but hardly original, and the costumes are fashionably interesting but random. When Alice first takes a sip of the shrinking potion, her clothes remain large while her body becomes tiny; when she eats the cake that makes her big again, her garments expand to match. This inconsistency continues throughout the rest of the movie. Perhaps that’s just the sort of unexplained oddity to make Wonderland seem like Wonderland, but it stands out as an overlooked error. As for the Red Queen, Helena Bonham Carter captures her wickedness with a welcome passion, and her disproportionate features are the most creative, inspiring and humorous design in the film.
Is Alice’s journey to Underland supposed to be a nightmare? Should it be? The notion of turning this Alice in Wonderland remake into a sequel is insultingly bland. Although her adventures are a slightly different blend of Carroll’s works, it’s still a rehash of the basic story, making this new encounter a redo, a repeat and a re-adventure. The title didn’t even bother to notify the audience that this was a new chapter in her life. With too much of Alice’s life outside of Underland getting screentime, forcing pointless conclusions for her regular London existence, a bizarre Wizard of Oz counterpart for several of the characters, plus the Mad Hatter turning into a sword-wielding romantic hero, this classic adaptation update unfortunately didn’t feel enough like Alice in Tim Burtonland.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)