Alice in Wonderland | Movie+TV Reviews | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Seven Days needs your financial support!

Alice in Wonderland 

Movie Review

Published March 10, 2010 at 9:51 a.m.

Some people are saying Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland isn’t for kids. But if the kids are old enough to know their Lewis Carroll, this movie could serve as an excellent first lesson in how Hollywood — and especially Disney — gets books wrong.

With their episodic structure and frequent pauses for literary parody, Alice in Wonderland and its sequel are not easy works to turn into feature films. Yet Carroll’s comic, fantastical creations — characters who almost demand to be visualized — keep directors trying.

As a master of neo-Victorian phantasmagoria, Burton was a natural choice to direct the inevitable 3-D Alice packed with computer effects. But in giving the story a “stronger” plot, writer Linda Woolverton (who scripted Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) has turned it into a retread of The Wizard of Oz crossed with Harry Potter. The young person “chosen” to defeat evil is a girl this time, and her adventure is one whom parents of spirited daughters will no doubt appreciate. But the fact remains — Alice doesn’t live here anymore.

Newcomer Mia Wasikowska plays Alice Kingsley, a sheltered Victorian teen who believes her childhood jaunts to Wonderland were simply a dream. Burton’s slapstick period-piece prologue ends with Alice falling down the rabbit hole as she’s on the verge of yielding to a fop’s marriage proposal. It’s mostly downhill from there.

You see, Burton’s Underland (as the residents call it) isn’t a place of inspired randomness, perverse whimsy and ferocious mockery of authority figures, like Carroll’s Wonderland. The landscape may look psychedelic, but events there are bound by a scroll that prophesies a coming apocalyptic battle of good and evil. Yes, another one. Seems the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) is the scourge of Underland, and somebody named Alice is supposed to slay her pet monster, the Jabberwocky, on the “frabjous day.”

If you know and love the “Jabberwocky” poem, it feels sad to hear Carroll’s joyful exercise in nonsense language turned into a solemn, Tolkienesque pseudo-myth; his satire of epic poetry taken seriously. “Frabjous day” should always rhyme with “Callooh! Callay!” But not here.

The closest we get is when Johnny Depp mangles the poem’s first stanza with a Scottish burr. He plays the Mad Hatter, now a resistance fighter who appears to be afflicted with PTSD. With a Carrot Top coif and unblinking, sea-green eyes, Depp is memorable, but the camera fawns on him as if the Hatter were another so-crazy-he’s-sexy creation like Jack Sparrow. Not so.

Alice does entertain the eyes, as Wasikowska wanders through CGI landscapes that evoke Fragonard and Maxfield Parrish. The young actress is a fine choice, combining the sturdy beauty of a 19th-century ingenue with the original child Alice’s pluck and sternness. The rest of the cast — which includes Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry and Michael Sheen in voice roles — helps. Bonham Carter finds wonderfully irascible line deliveries for her stock villain, and Anne Hathaway is funny in a whole different way as the White Queen, a Glinda figure who seems more than a little out of it.

If only it didn’t all have to come down to that stupid battle and a message about following your dreams. As imaginariums go, Burton’s is certainly more coherent — and lucrative — than that of Doctor Parnassus. Yet I couldn’t help wondering what bizarre and inspired things Terry Gilliam, who made the cult film Jabberwocky back in 1977, might have done with Alice. We’ll never know.


>Theaters and Showtimes

>Running Time: 108 minutes

>Rated: PG

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

More By This Author

About The Author

Margot Harrison

Margot Harrison

Margot Harrison is the Associate Editor at Seven Days; she coordinates literary and film coverage. In 2005, she won the John D. Donoghue award for arts criticism from the Vermont Press Association.


Comments are closed.

Since 2014, Seven Days has allowed readers to comment on all stories posted on our website. While we’ve appreciated the suggestions and insights, the time has come to shut them down — at least temporarily.

While we champion free speech, facts are a matter of life and death during the coronavirus pandemic, and right now Seven Days is prioritizing the production of responsible journalism over moderating online debates between readers.

To criticize, correct or praise our reporting, please send us a letter to the editor. Or send us a tip. We’ll check it out and report the results.

Online comments may return when we have better tech tools for managing them. Thanks for reading.

Latest in Category

Keep up with us Seven Days a week!

Sign up for our fun and informative

All content © 2022 Da Capo Publishing, Inc. 255 So. Champlain St. Ste. 5, Burlington, VT 05401

Advertising Policy  |  Privacy Policy  |  Contact Us  |  About Us  |  Help
Website powered by Foundation