Animation fails to bring Alice alive

Timothy Barber
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Cert: PG

THE idea of Tim Burton turning his imaginative powers to Lewis Carroll’s children’s fantasy, and roping in his old mucker Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter in the process, seems so blazingly obvious it’s a wonder it took them this long. Sadly, it seems what they were waiting for was the CGI technology – pointless 3D and all – to do it with. Burton’s a “visionary” filmmaker who has too often let his vision trample all over the need to actually tell a story, and Alice in Wonderland proves a case in point.

For his adaptation, Burton has pulled together various elements of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and follow-up story Through the Looking Glass, while putting his own extra spin on things by having Alice all grown up. On the verge of a disastrous engagement, 19-year-old Alice tumbles down the rabbit hole into the land of her childhood dreams, where the Mad Hatter, White Rabbit et al have been waiting for her to come and rescue them from the evil dominion of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). For reasons best known to Burton, the land is now renamed Underland, and the Red Queen has taken over with the help of dragon-like monster the Jabberwocky, which an ancient scroll dictates only Alice can slay.

With practically every fantastical character and multi-coloured surface rendered digitally, Alice herself is about the only non-animated element of the film, which is also how Mia Wasikowska plays her. She seems desperately devoid of excitement or interest in her own adventure, uttering the famous “curiouser and curiouser” line with all the liveliness of a moody teenager watching a boring MTV video.

Depp and Bonham Carter both have suitably deranged fun in their roles, while various Brits are on hand to voice the secondary characters, from Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat to Matt Lucas raising the only good laughs as Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. Burton throws every visual trick he can think of into the mix, but it isn’t enough to make the crudeness of his narrative exciting, let alone fun.

Vaudeville Theatre

NOEL Coward’s 1930 comedy of ill-manners is an easy play to enjoy but can be a hard one to love, so despicably amoral and superficial are its characters. There’s much to recommend in Richard Eyre’s jaunty new production, from the fine comic timing of its stars Matthew MacFadyen and Kim Cattrall to the gorgeous sets, and it moves merrily along at a clip. But it still leaves one feeling a little hollow at the end.

MacFadyen and Cattrall are Elyot and Amanda, the rich, indolent divorcees who find themselves honeymooning with their new spouses in next door French hotel rooms. They run off to Paris where, as they ensconce themselves in Amanda’s chic love-nest of an apartment, we see the full ugly beauty of their relationship: two people drawn to each other by a wild passion, and destined always to fall into bickering confrontation – and worse – when the sex stops.

The real draw for the show is Cattrall, famous for her role as Samantha in Sex and the City, and she shows herself to be more than mere stunt casting. Her accent wobbles sometimes but she is a deft comic performer who invests Amanda with wit, and reveals a rather pretty singing voice too. As a brutishly arrogant Elyot, MacFadyen gets the most out of Coward’s dialogue, mixing caddish irreverence with an edge of real malevolence. Perhaps the most enjoyable performance, however, is Simon Paisley Day’s as Amanda’s nervous dullard of a husband Victor, having fun with his exaggerated plummy intonation.

As well as caustic comedy, there’s violence in Private Lives – “some women should be struck regularly, like a gong” says Elyot, before demonstrating. It’s the uneasy counterweight to the play’s froth, though froth and farce – much of it superbly choreographed – is the side Eyre’s production emphasises. On leaving, one feels gently entertained by the show but not quite charmed.