Alice in Wonderland
by George Sax
One of the oddest things about Tim Burton’s odd new movie take on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is that it seems to be pitched at many of the same “tween” and early adolescent girls as the two romantic Twilight movies. This is not a market segment Burton has strenuously courted during his 20-odd-year career. Of course, he’s at something of a disadvantage in this. His movie lacks the other films’ two male leads, the soulfully suffering Robert Pattinson and the glisteningly buff Taylor Lautner. But that’s okay; this Alice is supposed to be about feminist empowerment. Who needs cute boys?
Except the whole theme has a forced mechanical spirit. Burton and his scripter Linda Woolverton seem to have been rummaging among the oddments left over from ancient myth, C.S. Lewis’ Narnia saga, and even Steven Spielberg’s clumsy recycling of Peter Pan in Hook, among other things. They have Alice returning to Wonderland as a perplexed, indecisive 19-year-old trying to escape some life challenges.
Except now the place is called Underland, and it’s in a very bad way, under the tyrannical sway of the brutally imperious Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), and all the old Carroll characters are living in depressed anxiety. The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is now a somewhat addled, distracted, proto-freedom fighter with a Scottish brogue who becomes a kilt-clad, sword-wielding challenger to the Red Queen’s evil knight errant (Crispin Glover), a sort of fey Robert the Bruce.
Bonham-Carter’s narcissistically brutal Red Queen, a big bobble-headed doll with heart-shaped lip rouge, is kind of fun but she doesn’t have much to play off. Depp eventually has to function as a sentimental, Wizard of Oz-like figure, which is a little hard to take.
Burton once skillfully employed a talent for exuberant, visually witty and pointed movies like Beetlejuice and the first Batman. Here he seems to lack either visual or thematic inspiration. The movie, with a few interruptions of humor and superior art direction, has a dispirited air.
In its own way, Carroll’s Alice was a proto-feminist book. Little Alice was properly impatient with her author’s satirically arbitrary bourgeois conventions. Unlike Carroll’s slithy toves, Burton’s Alice never gyres or gambols, and little about it is at all mimsy.
Watch the trailer for Alice in Wonderland
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