Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland has flair to burn, but its heroine is a cipher | Film Review | Indy Week
Pin It

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland has flair to burn, but its heroine is a cipher 

Mia Wasikowska as Alice

Photo courtesy of Disney

Mia Wasikowska as Alice

Alice in Wonderland opens Friday throughout the Triangle

There is a lot about Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland that's curiouser and curiouser, but just not much "muchness." It is a phantasmagorical fever dream that is both absorbing and banal, a looking glass that reflects Narnia, Middle-earth and assorted other child-escapist imaginaria in addition to its source text.

The seemingly sensible argument that Lewis Carroll's 1865 novella Alice's Adventures in Wonderland inspired The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings and similar fare is undercut by Linda Woolverton's updated screenplay, a mash-up of Alice's Adventures with Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass and the creatures inhabiting his nonsense poem "Jabberwocky," as well as later elements from the English fantasy literature corpus. Although these narrative liberties may repulse English majors and Carroll purists, they do allow Burton the freedom to emboss the story with his own vision. What the director does with this license, however, is a conundrum worthy of a Mad Hatter riddle.

Ten years after her first trip to "Underland"—which she does not remember—a now-19-year-old Alice (Mia Wasikowska) finds herself at a personal crossroads. Following the death of her beloved father, Alice is due to marry a man she does not love in front a throng of family and friends on a Victorian estate. Problem is, Alice keeps wilting under the pressure and spying a strange white rabbit wearing a waistcoat and a pocket watch that, at the moment of her matrimonial truth, she chases, again, down the rabbit hole.

There, Alice encounters a host of familiar characters, starting with the White Rabbit (voice by Michael Sheen), then the chain-smoking Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman), the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Matt Lucas times two) and, of course, the tangerine-hued Hatter, played to Burtonesque delirium by Johnny Depp. Seems only Alice can save Underland from the clutches of the cruel, bulb-headed Iracebeth the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) by slaying the Jabberwocky and restoring Iracebeth's younger sister—the kindly, pacifist White Queen (Anne Hathaway)—to the throne.

Burton has always embraced the sentiment behind Alice's query, "What is the use of a book, without pictures or conversations?" There is wonder in the film's unrelenting visual design, comic spark and intriguing voice work—particularly impressive is the trippy cool of Rickman and Fry, while Christopher Lee is instantly recognizable as the Jabberwocky's resonant baritone. But, it is a sense of awe not shared by the surprisingly aplomb Alice. Burton's 3D pictorial of a young woman's arrested development and reluctant embrace of adulthood belies the fact that Alice's entire time underground is spent having one creature after another tell her where to go and what to do. Nonetheless, the Alice that crawls out of the rabbit hole has turned into a budding feminist with aims of carrying on the family business and blazing trade routes to China.

The pleasingly zany spectacle of it all comes at the expense of the story's soul. Beyond their collective lunacy—"We're all mad here," the Cheshire Cat famously informs—we barely ascertain any character motivation. The audience cranes its neck to hear a lone, brief exchange between the regal sisters, hoping for some nugget of exposition about the germ of their animus. The revelation that the Red Queen felt the need to behead her kingly husband passes quickly and without elaboration, much like the emotional undercurrent to her relationship with the head of her Army, the Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover!).

Crispin Glover as the Knave of Hearts - PHOTO COURTESY OF DISNEY

Woolverton previously penned such inoffensive Disney offerings as Beauty the Beast and The Lion King. So, her Alice scrub is not that surprising, nor is the fact that Alice in Wonderland may well appeal to younger viewers looking for a slightly edgy, mostly palatable diversion—how else to contextualize Hatter's abominable final act breakdance? Burton has told interviewers that he never felt emotionally connected to Carroll's work, and here he seems to be trying—but failing—to bring more rhyme, reason and heart to the story. However, Alice's assertion proves to be as apt as ever: "I don't believe there's an atom of meaning in it."

Film Details

Alice in Wonderland
Rated PG · 109 min. · 2010
Official Site: disney.go.com/disneypictures/aliceinwonderland
Director: Tim Burton
Writer: Lewis Carroll and Linda Woolverton
Producer: Richard D. Zanuck, Joe Roth, Suzanne Todd and Jennifer Todd
Cast: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall and Barbara Windsor

Trailer


Now Playing

Alice in Wonderland is not showing in any theaters in the area.

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Film Review



Twitter Activity

Comments

My wife is super hyped up over this movie. We're going to see it saturday. Having married a Korean american, …

by Timothy Oswald on On the Upside, Crazy Rich Asians Is a Genuine Cultural Milestone. On the Downside, It's ... Not That Good? (Film Review)

I love this film, and we just did a podcast about it! We explore age-related cognitive impairment, alcoholism, rural midwestern …

by Scott Wickman on Nebraska is maddeningly dead-on (Film Review)

Most Read

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…

Most Recent Comments

My wife is super hyped up over this movie. We're going to see it saturday. Having married a Korean american, …

by Timothy Oswald on On the Upside, Crazy Rich Asians Is a Genuine Cultural Milestone. On the Downside, It's ... Not That Good? (Film Review)

I love this film, and we just did a podcast about it! We explore age-related cognitive impairment, alcoholism, rural midwestern …

by Scott Wickman on Nebraska is maddeningly dead-on (Film Review)

Good movie. That showed a career service member can be sold out by BS politicians

by Darin Thigpen Sr on Only military guys can understand (Film Review)

It is a very good film.I really liked it.The film is visual treat to the audience.Suraj Sharma nailed the role …

by Fermin Johnson on Life of Pi is a touching fable (Film Review)

Much as I hate to be that guy, I must nonetheless point out a minor error in your review. The …

by Just Another Malcontent on Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs Is an Alternately Respectful and Baffling Parable About Japan (Film Review)

© 2018 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation