Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland (PG)

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

By Roxana Hadadi

Tim Burton already ruined two classic films with his remakes of “Planet of the Apes” and “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” which he renamed as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” It’s somewhat unsurprising, then, that his redo of “Alice in Wonderland” is similarly unbearable.

Arguably Burton’s most-talked about collaboration with Disney since the animated “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Alice in Wonderland” has been much-hyped for its use of 3-D, and the trick certainly works, giving life to thrown teacups and flying monsters. But overall, the film lacks spark and charm – which is strange, given that Burton told press at Comic-Con last year that he “never felt an emotional connection” to the tale before he started working on it. Though Burton would go on to add that he wanted to give Lewis Carroll’s books “some framework and emotional grounding that I felt I hadn’t seen in any version before,” neither is really there, making the film somewhat interesting to watch but ultimately forgettable.

There have been numerous versions of “Alice in Wonderland” throughout the years – like a few silent versions, Disney’s well-known 1951 animated adaptation and even one from TV channel SyFy – and each of them basically follows what Carroll mapped out in his first book and its follow-up, “Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There.” But Burton takes far more artistic liberties with this film, fast-forwarding more than a decade in the future and even changing the name of the setting. And unfortunately for him, none of the changes really work.

Things start off by introducing viewers to Alice’s father, a businessman ambitiously seeking to expand his trading business around the world; he halts his business meeting, however, when Alice (Mairi Ella Challen, in her first role) wanders out of her room after waking up from another nightmare. She keeps having the same dream of caterpillars, dueling queens and other weirdness over and over again, but her father tells her that if she has gone mad, she’s in good company – the best people are. With that reassuring thought, Alice drifts back off to sleep.

Thirteen years later, however, her father has died, and Alice (now played by Mia Wasikowska, “The Kids Are All Right”) has grown into a rebellious, almost ornery 19-year-old, refusing to wear a corset or stockings and with a profound curiosity that confuses most people. Though her mother hopes she’ll accept a wedding proposal from the pale, boring Hamish, who is incredibly wealthy and gives advice like “When in doubt, remain silent,” Alice isn’t sure of what she should do, and stalls for time by chasing a white rabbit she sees in the bushes.

So far, the film’s plot is a little tweaked, but generally true to Carroll’s novels – that won’t last.

Leaving the engagement party’s guests behind, Alice tumbles down a hole and into Underland (apparently, she wrongly heard “Wonderland” the first time around), where its creatures are arguing over whether she’s the right Alice. Though the White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen) is certain he’s finally found the same girl who visited them so many years ago, others, including the Dormouse (voiced by Barbara Windsor), aren’t so sure. In fact, neither is Alice – she’s convinced it’s all a dream and refuses to believe that she has visited this land before; the fact that the Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman) tells her she’s “not hardly” the same girl doesn’t help, either.

But soon, she’s being drawn into the goings-on of Underworld: The evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has taken over the land, beheading everyone who opposes her, while the pure White Queen (Anne Hathaway) is forced to live essentially in exile. All of the creatures of Underland, including fish that walk and mad hares, must bow to the Red Queen – or at least pretend to, until they learn Alice has returned. Thanks to a scroll that tells Underland’s future, they know she will be the champion who slays the Red Queen’s most ferocious monster, the Jabberwocky – but it’s up to Alice to embrace her future and walk the path.

Since this is a Disney film predominantly for children, it’s a given that there are many obvious messages about self-confidence and being comfortable in your own skin, but since it’s also a Tim Burton film, there are numerous elements that just seem too macabre. For example, the heads of the Red Queen’s victims float in the moat surrounding her castle, Dormouse plucks out the eye of a monster and the Jabberwocky is a snarling, vicious beast that closely resembles the one illustrated by John Tenniel for Carroll’s novel. Burton gets points for accuracy, but it’s still nasty.

He makes up for that random grossness, though, with a brightness that washes each frame, whether he’s contrasting the two queens or reimagining the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp,  again playing with too much of a Jack Sparrow-like bent) into a neon-haired, break-dancing anti-hero. But while that eye-catching appeal may work for children, anyone old enough to know that the Mad Hatter probably wouldn’t be getting down with Alice won’t be able to stand the way Burton has unnecessarily changed such a classic tale. Disney should have known better – but if you’re a parent who must, get ready for a 109-minute nap.

Roxana Hadadi last reviewed "Cop Out."

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