I did wonder whether Burton has exhausted his bag of tricks. Preening Johnny Depp in a fright wig? Lady-love Helena Bonham Carter in supporting role? Colorful but off-kilter sets? Danny Elfman score? Check, check, check, check.
I could have forgiven it all if this film hadn't been so boring. Yet despite appending bookends about Victorian garden parties and international commerce, and making Alice (Mia Wasikowska) a full-grown woman on a return visit to the "wonderland" of her youthful dreams, a coherent, compelling storyline never emerges.
Alice encounters all of the requisite creatures from Carroll's books (Alice, Through the Looking Glass), such as the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter (Depp), the Red Queen (Carter), Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and the White Rabbit. But now there are chase scenes, magic swords, inter-kingdom warfare, a dragon(!) to be vanquished, and some holiday that makes the Mad Hatter channel Michael Jackson. It's alternately dull and frantic, with the pretty but vapid Wasikowska and the madcap Depp quickly wearing out their welcomes.
The bright spot in the film is Carter, whom Burton depicts as a gigantic Elizabeth I-type head atop a much smaller body. Carter delivers her lines with a hearty, demented brio that isn't as self-consciously showy as Depp's endlessly morphing accents and facial tics. I also adored all the heart motifs that the production designer worked into the queen's stylings.
But viewers searching for the more elusive heart -- the sad-sweet centers that mark Burton's better films -- will be disappointed. There's just a lot of meaningless, color-saturated clutter and clatter down this rabbit hole. In 3-D at select theaters.