aliceThe 19-year-old Alice returns to the magical world of her childhood adventure, where she reunites with her old acquaintances and learns of her true destiny– to end the Red Queen's reign of terror. Fantasy-addicted director Tim Burton (SLEEPY HOLLOW [1999]; BEETLEJUICE [1988]; BATMAN; big box-office CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY [2005]; BIG FISH [2003] (our favorite); popular PLANET OF THE APES [2001]; and the goofier-than-usual CORPSE BRIDE [2005]) fashions another phantasmagoria from the cherished-if dark-children's whimsy by Lewis Carroll, the eponymous Alice in Wonderland.

The problem is, for all the visual eye-candy, the set design that extends our childhood memories of the Cheshire Cat (called just "Chez" here in this Ain't-we-just-so- sophisticated? version), the Tweedledum and Tweedledee roly-poly twins, the Mad Hatter et al., the imagery does not create engagement or even any persistent carry-through interest. It is a mild curiosity, excepting the imperious-mad menu of performances of Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, the scenery-chewing loon, Johnny Depp in a carousel of accents and modes-none of them long enough to fix on-Anne Hathaway (as the White Queen) and Alan Rickman's hilariously soignée Blue Caterpillar. Blonde Mia Wasilkowska, a comely newbie to the film world, is older than the Alice of our book-recall, here nearly affianced to an effete silly-goose. The film toggles between the Carroll scripting and signature Burton metastasizing, but the result is curiously flat and unmemorable, neither (if you will) phish nor foul. Not animal, not veg.

Would children enjoy it? One seriously counsels against taking really young kids, as there is violence, mayhem and scary sequencing in the gimmick of the day, 3D, that makes even last season's "children's" fable, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE [2009], seem more acceptable. At least with Maurice Sendak's film, we were within the bounds of the look of the kiddie classic.

David Keyes of Cinemaphile once credited Burton's runaway surprise success, BATMAN, with the director's brilliant visual interpretation of a "dark, ominous comic book," because he brought a near-occult adult sensibility to what many usually dismissed as kid-stuff comic material. With many of his prior works, this carnival transmutational thinking works to the material's favor. Here, the result is less clear, and less successful beyond an exercise in optical opulence; as usual with many of his works, a satisfactory resolution is missing. It's the triumph of ornate form over reasonable content. Must admit, the fall down the rabbit hole was well done and unstagy, though the actual fall seemed implausibly endless.





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