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Review: Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

Rabbit stew
By PETER KEOUGH  |  February 24, 2011
1.5 1.5 Stars

READ:"Red Queens and White Knights," a roundup of new Alice-related DVD releases
Tim Burton's version of Alice in Wonderland bears as much resemblance to Lewis Carroll's two Alice books as the video-game version of Inferno does to Dante's epic poem. In fact, a video-game Alice would be more engaging than this fitfully amusing exercise in special effects, set design, and 3-D. It jumbles together a half-dozen or so other overproduced fantasies and wraps them up with typical, tiresome Disney bromides and just enough snippets from the originals to remind you of what you're missing.
Alice In Wonderland | Directed by Tim Burton | Written by Linda Woolverton, based on the books by Lewis Carroll | With Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, and Alan Rickman | Disney | 108 Minutes

As the pointlessly soaring camera glides through a mud-colored 19th-century London, I was terrified to think that I might be back in Bob Zemeckis's A Christmas Carol. But following a brief interlude with a juvenile Alice being comforted by her father (wasn't this from The Secret Garden?) after another "nightmare," the film settles into what seems a Jane Austen movie, with the now nubile and fatherless Alice (Mia Wasikowska) facing a marriage proposal from chinless, toffee-nosed twerp Hamish. Alice, however, is the rebellious sort (she doesn't wear a corset or stockings), so she scoots after a bunny in a waistcoat and falls down the old rabbit hole — not to Wonderland, necessarily, but to a kind of Wal-Mart knockoff of every trite high concept that's made more than $40 million at the box office on opening weekend.

Beware the Jabberwock, my son, goes the nonsense verse in Through the Looking Glass. Burton's screenwriter, Linda Woolverton, might well have heeded that advice, but she goes ahead and uses the poem anyway (hey, she could have opted for the White Knight's "A-Sittin' on a Gate") to set up the movie's bogus premise. Wonderland is now Underland, and the rule of the beneficent Aslan — er, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) — has been usurped by the Wicked Witch of the West, or rather the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), whose ace in the hole (she seems to have been conflated with the Queen of Hearts, so her men are playing cards rather than chess pieces) is the aforementioned manxome Jabberwock.

Alice — or as she's known in The Matrix, Neo — is fated (everybody keeps referring to a scroll called something I couldn't make out: "unobtainium"? an earlier version of the script?) to take the vorpal sword and slay the monster, a deed she's prodded into by her helpers the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), Gimli the Dwarf, the Tin Woodman, and others. At least the final showdown looks like the John Tenniel illustration.

But before we get to that scene, let's not forget the main point: Alice is tired of getting bossed around by everybody — not just Hamish, but every talking animal and Mad Tea Partier in Wonderland. It's her dream, for crying out loud, and she'll make her own path, scroll be damned. So, something for the kids to learn: be yourself and don't let anyone tell you who you are. Who are you, anyway? Who am I? Is this all a dream?

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