REVIEW: Not Much Dreamy In ‘Wonderland’

Alice in Wonderland” director is Tim Burton a recognized genius of signature atmospheric animation and cinematic story and style. The story’s screenwriter, Linda Woolverton, who has penned Disney classics like “The Lion King,” is also a masterful story-teller. But their styles hardly mix, and the surreal atmosphere of “Alice in Wonderland” can’t hide this fact.

carter alice in wonderland

“Alice in Wonderland” borrows elements of both of author Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, telling the story of a grown Alice who is set to marry the oafish son of her deceased father’s business partner. But as her trophy wife future pans out before her, she gets cold feet and flees her engagement party, inadvertently chasing a rabbit in a waistcoat and falling down a hole into a strange world. Once there, she learns that it is her destiny to rescue “Wonderland” from a swollen-headed Red Queen, obsessed with beheading others. As a rebellion brews in preparation for the foretold day of victory, Alice must reconcile that to save Wonderland she must battle the terrifying dragon-like Jabberwocky. Despite the dreamy atmosphere of Wonderland, Alice slowly realizes that if she accepts the task of slaying the Jabberwocky, it might kill her.


Tim Burton’s vision is complete: dragon and horse flies with miniature dragon and rocking-horse bodies, decaying heads floating in the moat outside of the Red Queen’s castle, oddly shaped villains with long or lumpy bodies, vibrant colors everywhere. He expertly incorporates favorites from Carroll’s stories: food that makes you grow, drink that makes you shrink, talking animals, squat little twins, walking cards and chess pieces, and a tea party madder than September 12, 2009. But the story doesn’t quite match up. At the heart of the tale, we have a tame, Disney “classic” which has been told more effectively in “Mulan.” The film’s title character is portrayed as an early feminist, not content to sit back and let men have all the adventures. It doesn’t fit in the world of Wonderland.

While Burton has a long-running relationship with Disney, including the cult favorite “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” nothing about Burton is classic Disney. And everything about Woolverton is. Burton is about the quirks; Woolverton, the classics. What follows from their relationship starts in a stereotypical picture-perfect English party scene with understated characters who are all about conforming to societal norms. Thus, emotions are minimal. Mia Wasikowska, as Alice, should defy societal norms; instead she plays her emotions close, giving her performance a dreamy, trance-like quality for the better part of the film. Indeed, until Alice enters Wonderland, nothing drives the plot except the knowledge that at some point, we will get to a more interesting land.

But in Burton’s Wonderland, Wasikowska hardly wakes up, starkly contrasting her performance with Johnny Depp’s split personality Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter’s spoiled and angry Red Queen, and even Anne Hathaway’s airy White Queen.

But visions sync beautifully in the Red versus White battle, as an army of playing cards clashed with an army of chess pieces led by a claymore-weilding Depp, accentuating Alice’s epic battle with the Jabberwocky. But Depp’s bizarre jig to out-of-context techno music immediately after the battle quickly breaks the spell. Even the White Queen looked a little embarrassed at the performance.

The film ends with Alice returning to England and, predictably, rejecting her suitor. She goes on to do greater things in classic Disney fashion. Avril Lavigne’s unspectacular “Alice” plays as the credits roll—a choice that pretty much sums up the film.


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