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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘Alice in Wonderland’ too normal

    Tim Burton

    Alice in Wonderland

    Walt Disney

    Released March 5, 2010

    Score: B

     

    Who isn’t curious to see what Tim Burton does with “”Alice in Wonderland?”” The crazy part: it’s surprisingly not much in comparison to his murking and warping of “”Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.””

    Not to be misunderstood, Burton clearly establishes his mark on Lewis Carroll’s — or rather Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s — little Alice, compliments of some badass graphic effects (rotten heads floating in the Red Queen’s moat, for example), and Linda Woolverton’s fleshing out the plot to include a much more maddening Mad Hatter and a Jabberwocky in need of slaying. But with Burton’s background dabbling in corpses, eerie ambience and no-limits exploitation of the strange, “”Alice”” comes off disappointingly more normal than one would hope.

    Instead of initially arriving on the expected riverbank, watching Alice fashion a daisy chain while drifting in and out of consciousness as her sister reads, Woolverton tries something new — and should I say, successfull?

    She concocts the classic Disney father/daughter relationship: Frightened six-year-old Alice gets tucked in after a nightmare, her father listening carefully as she recounts her dream, exclaiming grandiosely she must be mad! Bonkers! Off her rocker! But of course, everyone great is mad.

    Flash forward 13 years and like any reputable Disney movie, Dad dies and daughter is abandoned to the cold and cruel world — in Alice’s case, forced to marry a redheaded baby of a man who more or less resembles an overfed rat.      

    The script clunks and clods. Instead of using invisible string, it attaches fishing wire between characters in Alice’s “”real life”” to those in her “”dream life,”” making the plot seem a bit careless, even frumpy. Woolverton and Burton adhere to some canonical scenes — in fact the path of the film mirrors both the novel and Disney’s 1951 animated rendition of Alice tumbling down the dimly lit rabbit hole past books and baubles, eventually thumping into a ceiling and sliding onto the floor. Which door, which door? Then of course the whole “”Drink Me, Eat Me”” fiasco, the shrinking and stretching, trying to get that damn key off the glass table.

    Cue the shift — Woolverton and Burton take the reins. The camera focuses on Alice from the keyhole. Voices come from the other side of the door. The white rabbit and others not yet recognized, speak of the wrong Alice — this is the wrong Alice. Attention duly captured, now what?

    Now Woolverton pulls here, cinches there, adds a little of this and that; what the audience gets is a deeper plot with richer characters versus Carroll’s original intellectual musings from fantasy land. Guess what? Alice has been in Wonderland before, and now it’s up to her to slay the Jabberwocky and defeat the Red Queen. OK, it’s still pretty bare bones. Not “”Pulp Fiction,”” but it’ll do.

    Burton assembles a stellar cast with regulars Johnny Depp (Mad Hatter) and Helena Bonham Carter (Red Queen), the two of whom worked with Burton in “”Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”” “”Alice”” also boasts Anne Hathaway (White Queen), Alan Rickman (Blue Caterpillar), Crispin Glover (Stayne, the Knave of Hearts) and new Aussie star, Mia Wasikowska, as Alice.

    Depp’s portrayal of the Mad Hatter makes the movie a must-see. He might still be Jack Sparrow running drunkenly through Wonderland’s burned forests, but Depp’s immersion into the many facets of Mad Hatter and his use of unexpected tonal shifts, from amusingly insane to furious Scotsman, adds a gravity and darkness that drives the film.

    Carter rocks as the Red Queen and Hathaway could have been more convincing as Queen Pro-Peace. The soft social commentary tickles, the graphics impress and the acting overall delights — all in all, an enjoyable, if not extraordinary, trip to Wonderland once again.

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