Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is older than usual and the story follows her as she ventures into the fantastical Underland (or ‘Wonderland’ as some inhabitants call it).
It is there she meets various characters including Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), the Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover), the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) and the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen) and also has to slay a beast called the Jabberwock.
Many children around the world have grown up with this story and the characters are fairly iconic to people of a certain age, so it was a no-brainer to make a live action feature film, especially given the success of Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005).
Major problems begin with the casting of Alice, who is played by an actress who seems like she has just fallen out of bed rather than down a rabbit hole.
Newcomer Wasikowska just doesn’t have the spirit the role demands, especially given all the mind-bending experiences the protagonist goes through.
The idea of making her older doesn’t add anything substantial and her journey towards an armoured warrior towards the climax is unconvincing.
The production design and visual look of the film – one of Burton’s big selling points as a director – is also badly handled, much too reliant on green-screen trickery, to the point where it all blurs into an ugly CGI mess with little craft or imagination.
This is no more apparent than in the famous supporting characters.
The likes of the Cheshire Cat, Tweedledum and Tweedledee and the White Rabbit are wonderfully visual on the page, but on screen there are wafer-thin digital creations lacking charm and generally passing by without any consequence.
The two exceptions are Depp and Bonham-Carter, who do bring some zest to their roles, with the former tapping into the surreal charm of his character whilst the latter conveys the aristocratic impatience of hers with nice comic timing.
But this is little relief in a film which is a chore to sit through.
To make matters worse, the 3D has not been thought through properly and as the first major studio film to be released in the format after Avatar, this could prove to be a big let down.
I suspect, though could be wrong, that it wasn’t designed as a 3D film from the beginning, but when the 3D bandwagon gathered steam last year, someone decided to tick a box in the hope of boosting the box office.
When you think of the events in the story – falling down holes, characters growing in size etc – it is a massive missed opportunity, whether 3D was originally planned or not.
In fact, the film itself is one big missed opportunity that fails to translate the material effectively and a sign of a director who seems to have lost his way.