Director: Tim Burton Release Date: 5th March Burton does Carroll. It’s almost too perfect a pairing. The absurdist Victorian novel realised by a director famous for creating dark, twisted worlds populated with outsiders and madmen. Will Burton’s take on Wonderland offer anything new or simply be quirky for quirky’s sake? Thankfully Alice in Wonderland is a lush and dreamy retelling of the much-beloved story which manages to be its own animal. And beautifully rendered in 3D no less. The 19 year old Alice Kingsleigh has been dreaming of Wonderland since childhood. An imaginative young woman, Alice feels stifled by the conventions of her social circle and sex. She and her mother head to a garden party held by one of her now deceased father’s business associates. Unbeknownst to Alice, it is also her engagement party. Boring but rich Hamish and his mother have the party, answer and Alice’s future entirely figured out. All she need do is say yes. Conflicted and faced with Hamish on one knee in front of a gaggle of socialites, Alice spots the White Rabbit, gives chase and follows him down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. Once there she’s denounced by some familiar faces as “the wrong Alice,” while she believes it's all just a dream. However all is not well in Underland (as a child she mistook it for ‘Wonderland’). The Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has usurped her little sister, the serene White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and seized the crown by force. The bulbous-headed despot learns of Alice’s return and orders that she be hunted down. Alice must help the White Queen regain the throne by slaying the Jabberwock, reacquainting herself with old friends such as the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) and twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum (both played by Matt Lucas) along the way. The story takes elements and characters from both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. However Burton has made this more of a sequel than a straight retelling, amalgamating characters, giving others more prominence. He uses familiar set pieces and dialogue but tries to veer Alice into new ground. Updating her from a child to a young woman wrestling with her role in life pushes the story into more three dimensional territory better than say bored upper class child wanders off after rabbit. The story is less event driven than the novel and more of a character journey, as Alice rediscovers a long-buried part of herself. There’s even a smattering of female empowerment to scriptwriter Linda Woolverton’s screenplay, which is worthy but slightly laboured by the end. Most importantly, the film is a visual delight. Prior to Alice falling down the rabbit hole the 3D barely registers. It is her descent into Underland which makes the visuals come alive and in typical Burton style. Dark threatening locations, contorted backgrounds, and larger-than-life character designs abound, from the bloated head of the Red Queen, the goggle-eyed strangeness of the Mad Hatter, and the rolly polly twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum. In each case the actor’s features are recognisable but grossly exaggerated. The film boasts a cornucopia of odd creatures and twists on established characters. Even the Red Queen’s army of cards make an impression. A far cry from the 1951 Disney animated feature, they appear more like vicious brutes in knights’ armour than friendly rose-painting buffoons. The colourful backgrounds of toadstool strewn fields, flower beds and palaces dripping with livery are consistently impressive, taking full advantage of the 3D technology. But the film is not entirely a visual experience. Alice has not lost her childish curiosity, but she faces tough expectations on all sides. She’s the wrong Alice for an upper class twit in the real world and the wrong Alice for an Underland that needs her as its champion. There’s a lot of pressure on her to be this “right Alice” and newcomer Mia Wasikowska plays her as the calm yet headstrong centre around which the action radiates. Like her, we see this world as familiar, yet also new and dangerous. Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman, Barbara Windsor, Timothy Spall and Paul Whitehouse are among those who lend their voices as well as a few Burton regulars. Helena Bonham Carter makes an excellent autocrat, playing the Red Queen as a demanding child who shrieks and stamps her feet at the mere hint of insubordination. The grotesque coquette has something of Blackadder’s Queenie to her and Bonham Carter bellows the murderous queen’s “off with his head” mantra with relish. Depp’s cock-eyed Mad Hatter manically turns on a sixpence, shifting accents from English twittery to mad Scotsman (essential for those particularly insane moments) adding comedy and pathos in equal measure. His pale skin, yellow eyes and orange hair make him grotesque to look at, much as the Red Queen, but moments of lucid melancholy stand out above all. Anne Hathaway’s White Queen has all the poise and delicacy of a Hollywood cliché, arms held aloft in a permanently elegant and simpering fashion. Her sister makes scathing reference to her habit of fluttering her eyes for their parents when they were younger. At once the Red Queen’s coup seems a little more understandable and although Hathaway is a likeable actress, her White Queen comes across as somewhat of a drip. Wasikowska has a hard job playing the straight character amidst all this madness. Carroll’s Alice is in many ways a foot stomping brat. Burton’s Alice, while easily distracted from the real world by flights of fancy and the appearance of white rabbits, is more composed. She might come off as a little passive for some but she pins the rest of these performances together without getting lost, no easy feat. The second half suffers under the weight of its good intentions. The pace lags as the film stops to catch its breath, and takes a leap too far in how a more confident Alice fares when she returns to the real world. Her donning armour as Underland's Joan of Arc is one thing, but somehow I doubt even her father’s best friend would take business tips from a blonde teenager. Not in Victorian England at least. Two blaring mistakes are the inclusion of a cringe-worthy yet mercifully brief dance sequence and credits accompanied by an Avril Lavigne song. Neither sits well with the rest of the film, perhaps the younger viewer will enjoy it but brace yourselves for a spot of toe-curling. Try to ignore it and enjoy Danny Elfman’s score. There is a worry that a director with Burton’s reputation may stop challenging himself, sticking with familiar scenarios and actors. The actors may return, and yes this is another avant garde story with outsiders to root for and a dark, distorted land as a backdrop. However Alice in Wonderland is simply too colourful for you to be angry with it for long. It may not be a career best, but Burton shows plenty of flair reworking a familiar story with enough magic to warm even the hardest of hearts.