HE reader and Tim Burton buff Michael Mayo saw Alice in Wonderland last Thursday at Hollywood’s El Capitan, and, contrary to yesterday’s general opinion, was not only okay with it but actually feels it’s “Tim’s best work in a long time.” Perhaps with a pinch of salt…?

“It’s actually more somber than they’re letting on,” he says. “The setup is that Alice (Mia Wasikowska) comes back as a young adult and finds the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has taken over and is causing a “reign of terror,” etc. Part of Wonderland has dense vegitation and forests like Pandora, but part of it is scorched and spooky from where the Red Queen had the dragon-like Jabberwock (Christopher Lee) attack.

Johnny Depp plays the Mad Hatter with a soft Scottish accent and is his usual amazing self, making Willy Wonka seem almost normal. (Depp actually recites part of the film, and is wonderful while doing so.) Crispin Glover is actually in the film a good deal as the Red Queen’s consort, reminding me Prince Caspian’s evil brother. Wasikowska is rather good — she reminds me of a young Gwynneth Paltrow. As a cat person you’re going to love the silky, Stephen Fry-voiced Cheshire Cat, who has a larger role in this than the original.

:They’ve also set it up for a sequel, if it does well enough. The CGI is not as good as Avatar‘s, but then nothing will match that film’s visual wonders for a long time. But the design is very handsome and captivating. The 3D looks good, but it’s a little hard to tell because they had all the center seats blocked off for the VIPs so us proles got put on the hard-angled sides where it might not have been as effective. You know the El Capitan — if you’re not in the center, you’re screwed.

“The only qualm I have is that, paradoxically, aside from his usual weird design, this feels less personal than a Burton film. It is far more visually straightforward and almost workmanlike film than Burton’s last few films; parts of it feel like they could have been done by almost any competent director (although this probably wouldn’t have resulted in the same type of performance from Depp.)

“I’m going to be very curious to see how it plays with the public, but I think it will be a hit so I’m not quite sure why they’re keeping the lid on.