Combining a unique aesthetic, conjured from his twisted imagination, with dark humour and heartfelt emotion, Tim Burton has remained a visionary in a sea of profit-driven conformity.

His opening two chapters of the Batman franchise pushed boundaries in mainstream box office fare, leading to the introduction of the 12A certificate in the UK.

Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow plumbed the grimy depths of the human condition, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, while more recently, Burton put his distinctive spin on Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd.

Johnny Depp has been a regular collaborator during the past two decades, and the Oscar nominated actor gets top billing in this wild re-imagining of the books of Lewis Carroll.

Based on a screenplay by Linda Woolverton (The Lion King), Burton’s descent down the rabbit hole is a characteristically eye-catching and quixotic journey of self-discovery in a world where anything can, and probably will, happen.

Fans of the director’s earlier work will recognise his thumbprints on the grotesque character design, and the colourful sets, many of which are rendered digitally.

However, the action-oriented narrative owes rather a lot to The Golden Compass and the Narnia films in terms of the imagery and plot developments.

The film opens with rebellious 19-year-old heroine (Mia Wasikowska) faced with a most unexpected marriage proposal from bumbling twit, Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill).

Fleeing the public proposal to clear her head, Alice chases a White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen) down a hole, and reunites with old friends the Mad Hatter (Depp), Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Matt Lucas), Absolem the Caterpillar (voiced by Alan Rickman), The Dormouse (Barbara Windsor) and The Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), who she cannot remember from her earlier visit to Wonderland.

Alice learns she is destined to slay the fearsome Jabberwocky (Christopher Lee), owned by the decapitation-happy Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter).

Alice In Wonderland screens in 3D in selected cinemas and the technology works best at the beginning of the film, when Alice tumbles down the hole and objects fly at the screen, compelling us to duck and dive.

On the whole, Burton’s vision loses very little in traditional 2D.

The visuals are stunning, as you would expect, but characterisation is weak, and Depp’s turn as the Mad Hatter is one bout of lunacy too far.

Armed with various strange accents, his mad milliner is unintelligible in places.

Bonham Carter is an absolute delight as the maniacal monarch with the unnaturally large noggin, who employs swine as footstools: “I love a warm pig belly for my aching feet!”

The framing device of the marriage proposal robs the film of any sense of urgency or danger – how can Alice be harmed when she has to return to the world above to give Hamish her answer? – as we search in vain for the substance behind the style.