Alice in Wonderland (2010)
PG
Entertainment: +2
Acceptability: +2

Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, and Mia Wasikowska as Alice. Voice cast: Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Christopher Lee, Paul Whitehouse, Barbara Windsor. Fantasy Adventure. Written by Linda Woolverton, based on the books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll. Directed by Tim Burton.

FILM SYNOPSIS: Director Tim Burton (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Planet of the Apes) offers up a 3D take on the fantasy adventure Alice In Wonderland, with Johnny Depp starring as the Mad Hatter and newcomer Mia Wasikowska as 19-year-old Alice, who returns to the whimsical world she first encountered as a young girl.

As an adult, Alice no longer remembers her childhood friends: the White Rabbit, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Dormouse, the Caterpillar, or the Cheshire Cat, and at first all she wants is to get back home. Soon, however, she finds herself embarking on a fantastical journey toward her true destiny, along the way ending the Red Queen’s reign of terror.

PREVIEW REVIEW: Tim Burton continues with his avant-garde style, once again comfortable with the unsettling, the dysfunctional, the misshapen, and the bizarre (Sweeney Todd, the Barber of Fleet Street, Ed Wood, Mars Attacks). Proficient with portraying a world that seldom resembles reality, Mr. Burton updates the captivating classic, this time having Alice as an adult seeking independence (she doesn’t want to wear a corset or marry the guy with no chin). Though the moppy-haired filmmaker again exhibits his sly visual playfulness, throughout the 101 minutes I kept asking myself, “Where’s the wonder?” Here, Mr. Burton demonstrates a preference for moody 3-D gimmickry over the exploration of human nature, and surprisingly, his film is colorless both in hew and character.

As for the 3-D, it was dark (perhaps the fault of the theater projector at the press screening) and lackluster (except for the final shot, which generated a united “ooh” as a blue bufferfly nearly landed on each audience member’s shoulder). I’ve heard people complain that the three-dimensional process, which often muddles the narrative or takes place of a narrative altogether, sometimes gives them a headache. This time it did that for me. What’s more, unlike the recent Disney documentary Earth, here the 3-D process does nothing to heighten the look or cause us to gasp in awe.

Now here is where I must really tread lightly, as Johnny Depp’s fans nearly worship his unconventional countenance. As the Mad Hatter, he’s decked out in clown white makeup, with Kewpie doll red lips, orange Bozo wig, and green cat-like contacts, all combined to give him a demonic Carrot Top resemblance. The actor has chosen to play an offbeat character (what else?), but fails to generate the pathos he did so well in Edward Scissorhands. Rather than magical or mystical, he’s aloof, as if signaling that even he’s getting bored with his choices. Sorry, worshippers.

I did my best to hear the reactions of the few children in the screening audience. I wanted to assess their reactions to the story and the weirdness of its underworld’s inhabitants. After all, Carroll’s classic has been mesmerizing little ones since 1865. There didn’t seem to be much of a stir. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. Were they enthralled, oor just numbed? Here again, Burton’s reinvention of the story seemed to miss its mark. It should be for children, yet, the protagonist is now an adult. I suspect little ones would have appreciated the trip down that rabbit hole more with a preteen Alice than a grownup suffragette.

Listening to comments as I left the theater, many attendees seemed disappointed. Indeed, Disney’s animated version from 1951 has come the closest to catching the whimsy and wit of Carroll’s nursery tales, but his fable may be better suited to the written word than to moving pictures. (That’s just a theory, but one based on the failings of the several cinematic endeavors to bring Alice to the screen.) Today’s special effects departments leave us with little to imagine, many cinematic storytellers being incapable of relaying the philosophical undercurrent that made Lewis Carroll famous and his stories beloved. Though his Alice novels are not nearly the allegories many intellectuals wish us to believe, still the draw for both children and adults to Carroll’s Wonderland adventures has always been Alice’s intelligent response to the absurdities of language and action. Sadly, too many kids’ films, as well as those made for adults, are meant to stimulate the eye, not the mind.

DVD Alternative: Alice In Wonderland. Disney’s animated version made in 1951 still holds viewer attention.

Or, try: A Bug’s Life. Computer-generated animation about a worker ant who takes it upon himself to locate tougher bugs that will protect his little village from invading insects. Unfortunately, our bumbling hero recruits a motley group of circus bugs that think they are going to entertain the invaders.

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Distributor: Disney Studios

Summary
Crude Language: None
Obscene Language: None
Profanity: None
Violence: Some of the jolts and chases may be disturbing for little ones, including wild, cartoonish beasts chasing and threatening Alice and others; a mouse swings a needle like a sword and takes out the eye of a marauding creature; that same creature takes a swipe at Alice, his claws cutting her arm – later they become friends; the Red Queen keeps yelling, “Off with his head,” and at one point the Mad Hatter is decapitated, only to magically be restored – how is never explained; there is a battle scene between the forces of Good vs. Bad; Alice, dressed as Joan of Arc, leads the battle and eventually beheads a red-eyed and decidedly destructive dragon; a child behind me began whimpering as Alice was menaced by a huge snarling creature who just had an eye plucked out by a mouse with a needle/sword – it wasn’t as gruesome as it sounds.
Sexual Intercourse: None
Nudity: None
Homosexual Conduct: None
Sexually Suggestive Action/Dialog: None
Drug Abuse: Alice drinks a potion that makes her small, and then eats a cake that makes her a giant.
Other: Some scenes may unnerve very little ones.
Running Time: 101 minutes
Intended Audience: Family

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