Monday, March 8, 2010

Review: Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" is Really Gassy in Blunderland

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 10 (of 2010) by Leroy Douresseaux

Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Running time: 108 minutes (1 hour, 48 minutes)
MPAA – PG for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar
DIRECTOR: Tim Burton
WRITER: Linda Woolverton (based upon the books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll)
PRODUCERS: Joe Roth, Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd, and Richard D. Zanuck
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dariusz Wolski (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Chris Lebenzon
COMPOSER: Danny Elfman


Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, and Christopher Lee with the voices of Michael Gough and Imelda Staunton

Director Tim Burton is a maestro. He can gather film actors, artists, artisans, craftsmen, etc. and bring them together to create cinematic worlds that dazzle our eyes and capture our imaginations. He has done that time and again in such films as Nightmare Before Christmas and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, among many. Yet three times, I almost fell asleep in the theatre while trying to watch Burton’s new film, Alice in Wonderland.

Tim Burton once said that he wouldn’t know a good movie script if he saw one, and Alice in Wonderland testifies to that. Alice in Wonderland is dazzling to look at, but the story is nothing but hot air. In the hands of screenwriter, Linda Woolverton, this return journey to Wonderland is a trip to nowhere.

This new Alice in Wonderland is actually a kind of sequel to the original stories. The Alice of Lewis Carroll’s famous books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1872), is now 19-year-old Alice Kingsley (Mia Wasikowska). Alice is about to become engaged to a wealthy nobleman, when she once again follows the White Rabbit (voice of Michael Sheen) down the rabbit hole to Underland, the place she visited 13 years earlier and named “Wonderland.” Underland is in trouble, oppressed by a reign of terror launched by the Red Queen (Helen Bonham Carter), who now rules Underland.

Alice doesn’t remember much about her first trip to Underland, but it turns out that she may be the chosen one, prophesized to end the tyranny of the Red Queen and restore her sister, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), to the throne. Alice falls in with a conspiracy or rebellion against the Red Queen. Some of the members are the White Rabbit, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Dormouse, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, and of course, the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp). The Hatter seems to be the leader, but his madness has left him broken down. Regardless of what help her friends may or may not be able to give her, Alice will have to face her destiny alone. She must slay the Jabberwocky (voice of Christopher Lee), the dragon that the Red Queen uses to terrorize the land.

The original Alice in Wonderland stories didn’t have plot or characterization (a deliberate move on the author’s part, I think). For this new film, screenwriter Linda Woolverton made Alice a heroine and gave her a cause, obstacles, and a goal to achieve. Now, Alice in Wonderland seems like just another big budget, Hollywood, fantasy action movie. It’s like Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia, but with grrl-power. Who is going to believe that this pale, skinny girl can take on the world, let alone save another world?

On the surface, Burton effectively creates a twisted vision of Wonderland, complete with deranged characters, warped personalities, and wonderfully ingenious creatures – like the computer-generated, way-cool, smoky Cheshire Cat (superbly given voice by Stephen Fry). The story, however, is just dull and, as hard as Woolverton tries to be inventive, the best this tale can do is replace your sleeping pills.

What starts off seeming so enchanted becomes tiresome. Johnny Depp’s take on the Mad Hatter mirrors this movie’s problem – pretty, colorful, creative, but a bumbling mess of misfires and mumbled lines. As bad as Depp is, Anne Hathaway is so impossibly bad as the White Queen that I’m just at a loss to explain it. As the Red Queen, Helena Bonham Carter gives the only coherent, quality performance of any of the Underland characters. Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland 2010 is not a turd. I don’t think Tim Burton could ever make a truly bad film, but as amazing as it looks, this mediocre movie sometimes comes across like a loud fart.

5 of 10

Monday, March 08, 2010


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