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Alice in Wonderland (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland


Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Marton Csokas, Tim Pigott-Smith, Lindsay Duncan, Geraldine James, Leo Bill, Frances de la Tour, John Hopkins, Jemma Powell, Eleanor Gecks, Eleanor Tomlinson, Mairi Ella Challen and the voices of Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman, Barbara Windsor, Paul Whitehouse, Timothy Spall, Michael Gough, Imelda Staunton and Christopher Lee.

Screenplay by Linda Woolverton.

Directed by Tim Burton.

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.  108 minutes.  Rated PG.

Tim Burton seems to have hit a point in his career where he is specializing in re-imagining classic stories.  In recent years, he has taken on Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Planet of the Apes and Sweeney Todd.  It seems odd for such a notoriously imaginative storyteller to keep piggybacking on other people’s stories – and honestly, none of the above mentioned Burton adaptations are the premiere telling of their tales.

However, the wonderfully odd dream world of Alice in Wonderland should be right up Burton’s alley… or down his rabbit hole, whichever.

It turns out that Alice in Wonderland is Burton’s best adaptation yet.  Still, it is far from a perfect film.  Burton really is best when he follows his own eccentric muse – in things like Beetlejuice, Ed Wood, PeeWee’s Big Adventure and The Corpse Bride.

The new Alice is actually a variation on the famous old hallucinogenic Lewis Carroll novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.  It is essentially a sequel to those stories.  In fact, it really should be called Return to Wonderland or something, because fans of the originals will undoubtedly be a little put off that this film despite borrowing the title of the old classic animated Disney adventure actually tells an all-new story.

Years after the original goings on in Wonderland which the child had blocked from her memory, a teen Alice returns down the rabbit hole to a world that remembers her but she cannot exactly recall.  (She has dreamt about the world for years, but always assumed that it was merely that – a dream.  In fact, most of this film she is still determined that she is just dreaming.)

Most of the old characters are still here – the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, the Red Queen, Clarence the hookah-smoking caterpillar, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, The Dormouse, etc.  Alice also re-experiences many of the same things – the bottle reading drink me that makes her shrink and the cake which makes her grow, the playing card guards, the mad tea party – yet most of these are now done with a twist.

The hallucinogenic quality of Carroll’s prose still shines through (the book has long been said to be drug-inspired) and the sheer oddity of it all is somewhat bracing.

Unfortunately, despite all sorts of whimsy, the film sort of clunks to an obvious and ham-handed ending right out of Lord of the Rings and more other fantasy films than I care to remember.  It’s just the latest classic story which is given a stupid action sequence – supposedly to make it more palatable to modern audiences – following hot on the heels of A Christmas Carol and Sherlock Holmes.

Those two films were mostly pretty horrible each in their own ways.  Alice in Wonderland is not quite as bad, in fact it is mostly pretty interesting, due to the filmmaker’s vivid eye and a classic story.  Still, it hardly seems necessary or special.

Why bother to make a sequel to this story, anyway?  Curiouser and curiouser.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved. Posted: March 10, 2010.


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