The latest Burton/Depp picture is not a version of Lewis Carroll’s stories, but rather an
attempt to make an action-adventure blockbuster sequel to his “Alice” books, books
which I dearly love and the spirit of which doesn't exactly jibe with the prerogatives of the
action formula. Wonderland should not be bound by Hollywood script conventions (one of
the rules of which is apparently that everything now has to end with a tiresome battle).
The story has a 19-year-old Alice returning to Wonderland, where she must slay the
Jabberwocky to free “Underland” from the evil Red Queen.
Funny, I can always watch Burton’s visions with pleasure, but the end result usually
leaves me lukewarm. Even if this new one finally succumbs to blockbuster enervation, the
pleasures are here: Helena Bonham Carter is really funny as the bulbous-headed Red
Queen. Every time she's on screen, I felt like the film was capturing the spirit of Carroll.
The interior of the White Queen's palace was eye-popping, the screen aglow in celestial
white. Mia Wasikowska was fine as Alice, with a certain kind, gentle determination.
Depp’s take on the Mad Hatter didn't quite work for me, though he does give the
character a certain poignancy. As for the 3-D, at its best it adds another level to the
experience of entering a world: I think of a scene on the balcony of the White Queen’s
palace on the side of a canyon, overlooking distant moonlit waterfalls. I liked the
rendering of the chamber at the bottom of the rabbit hole with the little door in the wall
and the table with the “drink me” potion. (I felt a little tingle as Alice passed through the
door: hey, we’re entering Wonderland.) Plus, it’s got frog valets, croquet played with
flamingoes and curled-up badgers, Stephen Fry voicing the Cheshire Cat. Not even all the
bunged-in clichés miss: I know the talking dog is one, but I’m a sucker for a talking dog.
I've always been grateful to my dad for insisting on getting me the original "Alice in
Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass", and not the one that initially caught my
young eye at the bookstore, a version adapted from the Disney cartoon. I hope all the
parents I saw at the screening won’t stop with this likeable yet predictable movie, but will
read the books with their kids. Maybe it’s not fair to compare books written for one little
girl to delight her imagination with a commercial product for the masses from an
entertainment conglomerate. Still, I can’t help but point out that one was done for love,
the other mainly for money.
Key to ratings:
***** (essential viewing)
*** (worth a look)
- Mar 12, 2010