'Alice in Wonderland'
(Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Matt Lucas, et al / PG / 1 hrs 49 mins / Disney)
Overview: Tim Burton takes a stab at Lewis Carroll's timeless tale of a young girl (Mia Wasikowska) lost within a fantasyland with this 3-D production of Alice in Wonderland. The Lion King's Linda Woolverton provides the script, with Hollywood heavyweights Richard Zanuck and Joe Roth heading up the production team. Burton veteran collaborator Johnny Depp co-stars as The Mad Hatter in the Walt Disney Productions picture.
Verdict: Mr. Burton has done his best work with contemporary stories, so it’s curious if not curiouser that he’s turned his sights on another 19th-century tale. Perhaps after slitting all those throats in his adaptation of “Sweeney Todd,” he thought he would chop off a few heads. Whatever his inspiration, he has tackled this new story with his customary mix of torpor and frenzy. After a short glance back at Alice’s childhood and an equally brief look at her present, he sends the 19-year-old on her way, first down the hole and then into a dreamscape — unfortunately tricked out with 3-D that distracts more than it delights — where she meets a grinning cat and a lugubrious caterpillar, among other fantastical creatures.
Johnny Depp’s strenuously flamboyant turn embodies the best and worst of Mr. Burton’s filmmaking tendencies even as the actor brings his own brand of cinematic crazy to the tea party. With his Kabuki-white face, the character seems to have been calculated to invoke Heath Ledger’s Joker, though at his amusing best the Hatter brings to mind a strung-out Carrot Top. But Mr. Depp doesn’t have much to do, which he proves as he wildly flirts with the camera. The only time the character hooks you is in the shivery moment when his gaze turns predatory as he looks at Alice, who, every inch a Tim Burton Goth Girl, from her corpselike pallor to her enervated presence, presents a more convincing vision of death than of sex.