Alice in Wonderland

Time Out New York Project: Issue #753, March 4–10, 2010

★★☆☆☆

Dir. Tim Burton. 2010. PG. 108mins. Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway.

Apologies to all of you who’ve been looking forward to Lewis Carroll getting the Tim Burton treatment. For this loose amalga-daptation of both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Burton is in dispassionate, for-hire mode, which means he’s more concerned with computer-generated eyesores than with the character, Alice Kingsley (Wasikowska), whose subconscious they’re meant to represent. 

Alice is no longer a girl, but a woman in her late-teens facing an arranged marriage to a snooty stick-in-the-mud. While mulling her situation, our heroine is drawn back to Wonderland by the White Rabbit. It’s there that a prophecy is unveiled (damn prophecies!) saying Alice will slay the monstrous Jabberwock, who’s been terrorizing the land at the behest of the literally big-headed Red Queen (Carter).

Save the terrific Sweeney Todd, Burton hasn’t convincingly visualized a dream world since his mid-‘80s to mid-‘90s heyday. The grounding psychology of his fantastical characters — like his two Eds, Wood and Scissorhands — has eluded him since he’s gone green screen. It’s especially damaging in this case since the Alice novels are all about a girl’s inner life made animate.

Wasikowska certainly looks the part, but we never get the sense that this place — or “playth,” as Johnny Depp’s lisping, unmemorable Mad Hatter might say — and its populace springs from her psyche. She’s basically lost on a “Burton’s Greatest Hits” ride at Disney World, where even an ostensibly inventive character like the film’s toothy, dematerializing Cheshire Cat feels like a weightless derivative of the director’s more tangible past creations. And unlike Carroll’s perversely idealized protagonist, Burton’s Alice is just another anachronistic feminist tearing down Victorian patriarchal norms. Even her — [shudder] — Avril Lavigne-blared theme song is a skin-deep grrrl-power accessory.—Keith Uhlich



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