Movie Reviews - 03/03

ALICE IN WONDERLAND (Walt Disney Pictures)

T. S. Eliot said "Human beings cannot stand too much reality." That presumably tells us why we drink, smoke, and indulge in movies and other bad habits. While most movies tell us something about current times, those like "Alice in Wonderland" let our imaginations soar, positing fairy-tale worlds may or may not subvert the practices of our current world.

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Walt Disney Pictures
Reviewed for Arizona Reporter by Harvey Karten
Grade: C
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written By: Linda Woolverton, book by Lewis Carroll
Cast: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall
Screened at: AMC Empire, NYC, 3/1/10
Opens: March 5, 2010

It would be a pleasure to say that Tim Burton allows those of us mired in the quicksand of reality to escape, even for under two hours, but his "Alice in Wonderland," scripted by "The Lion King" co-writer Linda Woolverton, is a crashing bore, lacking narrative momentum and sorely missing even a smidgen of originality. The huge sums of money that must have gone into making this 3-D confection, placing real live actors next to computer generated imagery, are yet another cone of cotton candy that mimics recent movies like "The Golden Compass," "Lord of the Rings," "The Chronicles of Narnia," even "The Wizard of Oz." If this picture were made earlier, a viewer could be more sanguine about the marvels of CGI and 3-D, though one might still be flustered by its randomly episodic nature without a clear spine.

Yes, of course Lewis Carroll, who wrote "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass," was opposed to class bigotry. Remember this was first published during Victorian times, when corsets were de rigeuer and clear lines were drawn between the servant class and the aristocracy, but satirizing such snobbery today is beating a dead horse.

As if challenging T. S. Eliot's quote, "Alice in Wonderland" is most interesting before she falls down the rabbit hole, hurting her head and hallucinating as though she had swallowed LSD. The film's rare moments of humor comes across in the opening half hour as Alice Kingsleigh, played by the willowy Mia Wasikowska, attends the festivities arranged by her well-off single mom, Helen Kingsleigh (Lindsay Duncan). Alice is soon to discover that she was tricked: this is an engagement party to link Alice to the dorky Hamish (Leo Bill), who is anything but hamish. He is rather a nose-in-the-air fop who probably never worked a day in his life and has bad digestion besides. Alice, being a proto-feminist, wants nothing of this lord, determined like Frank Sinatra to do things her way. Fortunately for her, she is able to make her escape from the festivities by following a white rabbit (Michael Sheen, who has turned in far better roles as Tony Blair and Nixon's interviewer), falling down a hole so deep it seems to lead the center of the earth. There she meets and greets a wealth of human and four-legged beings, the most evil of which are execution-crazy Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), who regularly shouts "off with her head," the contrasting White Queen (Anne Hathaway), who literally would not hurt a fly, a Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), who is the among the few truly fascinating creatures, able to appear and disappear and turn upside down at will, and the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), allegedly a victim of mercury poisoning which drove him batty.

Much is made over Alice's identity. Is she the real Alice, the one who visited Underland (as it's called here) when she was six (Mairi Ella Challen) and not yet a feminist? The real major character here is CGI, technology that allows Alice to grow taller than Wilt Chamberlain or shorter than Peter Dinklage depending on what she eats or drinks; a technology that allows Alice to fight the fierce Jabberwocky (Christopher Lee) with whatever passes in the Underland for Excalibur.

Not even Johnny Depp can save this formulaic work as the endlessly repetitive Mad Hatter, but dog lovers will cheer that Bayard the Bloodhound (Timothy Spall) retains all the virtues of an animal giving unconditional love to the story's heroine. Unconditional love is what this movie needs but is hardly likely to get.

For those interested in looking into the ways that Lewis Carroll's books (published in 1865 and 1871 respectively) subvert the social and political customs of the time, or whether there's womb for a Freudian interpretation of the rabbit hole, consult

ALICE IN WONDERLAND (Walt Disney Pictures)
Rated PG. 108 minutes. © 2010 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online

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