"Disney's Alice in Wonderland"
**** (out of four)
"Disney's Alice in Wonderland" is a big-budget blockbuster that, ironically enough, seems like most genuine and complete Burton film since 1994's "Ed Wood."
By framing his story as a sequel to the original Disney cartoon rather than a direct adaptation of Lewis Carols' books, Burton was able to free himself of artistic restraint, and delivers his most engaging, eye-popping, fiercely imaginative and entertaining work in many years.
He's aided by a top-notch cast, which in addition to Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter also boasts the considerable talents of Helena Bonham-Carter(-Burton?) as the large-headed Red Queen, the suitably weird Crispin Glover as the Knave of Hearts, and Barbara Windsor as the voice of the Dormouse (one of several peripheral characters from Carol's stories who is given an expanded role in Burton's universe).
As impressive as the film's 3-D visuals are, they take a back seat to the uniformly excellent cast of players, who bring the story to life with wit and panache.
It's not a matter of stylistics, as director Scott Cooper keeps everything very grounded and low-key. Rather, it's the performances by stars Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal that lend the film such a unique sense of authenticity.
As Bad Blake, a washed-up, alcoholic country music star who makes some semblance of a living performing four-song sets in dilapidated bowling alleys, Bridges delivers what is indisputably the performance of his already impressive career.
The character is totally his own, even the little things, from the distinctive way Blake lights a cigarette (he looks like he was born with a pack in his hand) to the subtle ways he conveys a deep sense of all-encompassing shame.
Gyllenhaal is impressive, too, as the single mother who (perhaps stupidly) allows Blake into her life, but in all fairness, it's Bridges who towers over the film.