Review Overview: Why 'Alice in Wonderland' Disappoints

Could have been curiouser

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Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, the latest adaptation of Lewis Carroll's 1865 children's novel, was released this weekend to something less than full acclaim. Plenty of critics have praised the movie's fever-dream visuals and daring performances (especially from frequent Burton collaborators Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter), but a surprising number of grievances have surfaced, from Burton's liberties with the story to his over-reliance on digital effects. Here are a few of the bones reviewers have picked:

  • Too Much Story The A.V. Club's Keith Phipps voices one of the most common complaints: while Carroll's novel was an episodic walkabout with "the liquid reality of dreams," Burton imposes a linear narrative that builds to "yet another outsized battle between good and evil." The result? "Another frustratingly impersonal [film] from a director who once had trouble compacting his personality down to movie size."
  • Too Many Effects Salon's Stephanie Zacharek notes that "Burton has put the expected level of care into... production and character design," but remains underwhelmed. The movie is "all production design and no storytelling," she finds. "Maybe Burton is working too hard at being visually impressive: In the end, 'Alice in Wonderland' comes off as manufactured instead of dreamy."
  • Too Many Influences... The Boston Globe's Ty Burr says it's not hard to guess what films the director had in mind while shooting this one. "There are bits of 'The Lord of the Rings,' 'Shrek,' 'The Wizard of Oz,' 'The Princess Bride,' even 'The Golden Compass,' all given a wash of chic Gothic gloom," Burr writes. "I'm not accusing Burton of intentional theft, just of working within a profitable mainstream fantasy-action framework that by now feels over familiar." (In an otherwise favorable review, The Philadelphia Inquirer's Carrie Rickey echoes this sentiment: "If there were truth-in-titling, Burton's movie rightly would be called Alice in Narnia: With Stops at Disneyland, the Shire, Rohan, Naboo, and Oz.")
  • ...But Not Enough Carroll Slate's Dana Stevens mourns the translation of Carroll's subtle, cerebral source material into a big, loud Burton blockbuster. "I guess it's too much to have hoped that Burton would do justice to the language of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, to Carroll's intricate logic puzzles and plays on the literal and figurative meaning of words," writes Stevens. "But did Burton have to get the books so entirely wrong?"
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