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Review: Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

Rabbit stew
By PETER KEOUGH  |  March 5, 2010
1.5 1.5 Stars

Tim Burton's version of Alice in Wonderland bears as much resemblance to Lewis Carroll's two Alice books as the video-game version of Inferno does to Dante's epic poem. In fact, a video-game Alice would be more engaging than this fitfully amusing exercise in special effects, set design, and 3-D. It jumbles together a half-dozen or so other overproduced fantasies and wraps them up with typical, tiresome Disney bromides and just enough snippets from the originals to remind you of what you're missing.

Alice In Wonderland | Directed by Tim Burton | Written by Linda Woolverton, based on the books by Lewis Carroll | With Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, and Alan Rickman | Disney | 108 Minutes

As the pointlessly soaring camera glides through a mud-colored 19th-century London, I was terrified to think that I might be back in Bob Zemeckis's A Christmas Carol. But following a brief interlude with a juvenile Alice being comforted by her father (wasn't this from The Secret Garden?) after another "nightmare," the film settles into what seems a Jane Austen movie, with the now nubile and fatherless Alice (Mia Wasikowska) facing a marriage proposal from chinless, toffee-nosed twerp Hamish. Alice, however, is the rebellious sort (she doesn't wear a corset or stockings), so she scoots after a bunny in a waistcoat and falls down the old rabbit hole — not to Wonderland, necessarily, but to a kind of Wal-Mart knockoff of every trite high concept that's made more than $40 million at the box office on opening weekend.

Beware the Jabberwock, my son, goes the nonsense verse in Through the Looking Glass. Burton's screenwriter, Linda Woolverton, might well have heeded that advice, but she goes ahead and uses the poem anyway (hey, she could have opted for the White Knight's "A-Sittin' on a Gate") to set up the movie's bogus premise. Wonderland is now Underland, and the rule of the beneficent Aslan — er, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) — has been usurped by the Wicked Witch of the West, or rather the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), whose ace in the hole (she seems to have been conflated with the Queen of Hearts, so her men are playing cards rather than chess pieces) is the aforementioned manxome Jabberwock.

Alice — or as she's known in The Matrix, Neo — is fated (everybody keeps referring to a scroll called something I couldn't make out: "unobtainium"? an earlier version of the script?) to take the vorpal sword and slay the monster, a deed she's prodded into by her helpers the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), Gimli the Dwarf, the Tin Woodman, and others. At least the final showdown looks like the John Tenniel illustration.

But before we get to that scene, let's not forget the main point: Alice is tired of getting bossed around by everybody — not just Hamish, but every talking animal and Mad Tea Partier in Wonderland. It's her dream, for crying out loud, and she'll make her own path, scroll be damned. So, something for the kids to learn: be yourself and don't let anyone tell you who you are. Who are you, anyway? Who am I? Is this all a dream?

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4 Comments / Add Comment


I saw the film last night and enjoyed it. A production like this is designed to be entertaining and escapist, and it delivered on both counts. The ending got a bit "Disney", but I thought the 3D effects were great, and particularly liked the performance of Mia Wasikowska as Alice. And, Helena Bonham Carter completely rocked the Red Queen role. She's great!
Posted: March 06 2010 at 8:47 AM


Apparently, the Alice in Wonderland that I saw Friday was a different movie than the one seen by this critic. I am a huge Lewis Carroll fan and have eagerly anticipated seeing the film ever since I heard of its production. I knew that this very beloved, unique tale would be in terrific hands with Johnny Depp, Tim Burton and Helen Bonham Carter and I was not disappointed. I saw Friday (opening day) and plan on seeing it again and again. It haunts me with its gorgeous visuals, brilliant cast and ethereal escapism. This review reminds me that I should never judge a book by its cover, or a movie by its review. You "didn't get it" and that is sad. To really enjoy this movie, you have to have the heart of a child...imaginative, innocent and uncynical. I pray t hat everyone who loves "Alice" will go to this movie and see its wonder and beauty. Just looking into those mesmerizing green eyes of the Mad Hatter is worth the price of admission.
Posted: March 07 2010 at 4:50 AM


Tallulah - Movies seldom live up to the "book". Tim Burton simply can't match the subjective movie in your head with the one going on in his. The only advice I can give you is to make your own movie. Having said all that, this is not a very good movie. Much like George Lucas and even James Cameron, Tim Burton forgets THE STORY in his quest to chock-full his film with special-effects. It's as if these movie-makers are in some giant circle-jerk trying to outdo the other. What otherwise would be a healthy competition to make a great movie, is instead a misguided attempt to out-special-effect each other. Boo!

Frankly, I'm up to my ass in "special-effects" and have started to sense an increasingly hollow experience in all things "blockbuster". Small independent films who don't have the money to dazzle me with fantastic, multi-layered cityscapes or, an overpaid Johnny Depp, are forced to rely on story telling. Which, of course, is the whole point of a "plot".

Apparently, I'm not the only one who feels this way. A closely guarded secret is that Hollywood is blockbuster at a time. Not even DVDs are saving these tiresome, over-bloated extravaganzas. Or, the ever-mugging Johnny Depp for that matter...hatter.
Posted: March 07 2010 at 12:08 PM


In all honestly, I completely and utterly agree with this critic. I am rather knowledgeable when it comes to Alice, and when I went to see the movie I was THOROUGHLY disappointed. The entire movie was about war (preparing to kill the Jabberywocky, and then killing it in the end) and how Alice is a little chosen one who has to do everything for them. The battle scene was very disappointing, and the rest of the movie had that feel to it. The movie is only 108 minutes long, they COULD have made the battle scene better, drew out the actual battle (swing sword, swing sword, run away, run away, Jabberwocky's dead), and prolonged the actual ending. I feel as though the only reason people went to go see this, this THING was because they lathered Johnny Depp ALL. OVER. IT.
Posted: March 07 2010 at 12:37 PM
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