Since Tim Burton peaked in the early 90′s with Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood—and, to a lesser extent, the wildly creative Beetlejuice—he’s been mostly on auto-pilot, save for 2007′s excellent Sweeney Todd. Simply pick a topic & filmic universe that should jive with his loopy imagination (Big Fish; Planet of the Apes; Corpse Bride; etc), and expect the combination of his name and a classic story to automatically produce a great film. His latest, Alice in Wonderland, fits this formula perfectly. Theoretically, Burton’s style should produce eye-popping results for Alice and friends, particularly in our souped-up 3D age. Alas, it’s mostly a bore, punctuated with the same old players and the same old “fantastical” world. I love Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter as much as anyone, but just tossing them into every film doesn’t create instant success. For a movie about imagination, Alice in Wonderland is sorely lacking in it, and leaves almost nothing to it either. The key characters—Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum; the Red Queen; etc—are presented in bright color schemes, much like the rest of wonderland, but there’s no energy to any of it. Alice in Wonderland reminds me most of Sleepy Hollow: empty, faux-atmospheric, and without soul. Depp’s Hatter is without spunk; Bonham Carter’s Red Queen does little more than bellow “off with his head” 90 times. And the 3D, which worked so well in, say, 2009′s Coraline, adds absolutely nothing here—only a few bugs pop, and the backgrounds don’t feel any richer. The best thing about the movie is a hookah-smoking caterpillar. It’s difficult to explain why I keep going back to Burton’s well given my recent disappointments, but I do. Maybe I’m just holding out hope that he’ll snap out of his funk and throw some genuine love back into his work sometime soon.