Here are a few things that Tim Burton’s new film “Alice in Wonderland” is not:
– A remake of Disney’s animated “Alice in Wonderland.”
– An adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s novels, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass.”
– Very good.
Despite its title, “Alice in Wonderland” is a sequel to the Carroll novels, not a new iteration of them. “Return to Wonderland,” or “Alice’s Further Adventures in Wonderland,” or “Wonderland II: Electric Boogaloo” would have been more accurate titles. But then it would have been obvious that someone had written a sequel to a beloved pair of 140-year-old novels, and that might have upset purists, so I suppose the wise choice from a marketing standpoint was to give it a title that suggests it’s merely a remake.
I stress the non-remake nature of the film right off the bat because you should know what you’re in for. Screenwriter Linda Woolverton (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King”) has a 19-year-old Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returning to the place she dreamed about as a child, summoned because she must slay the Jobberwocky and in so doing — this part is not explained — dethrone the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and restore the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) to power. You would think slaying the Red Queen, not her pet dragon, would be the key there, but you would be mistaken.
Alice remembers visiting Wonderland before, though she thinks it was only in her dreams. In fact, she believes she’s dreaming again now, and that everything will end when she wakes up — a bad move, story-wise, because it means that instead of her mission being to Get Back Home or to Save The Day, the thing she desires most is merely to Wake Up. Frodo wanted to destroy the ring; Dorothy wanted to get back to Kansas; Alice just wants to regain consciousness.
Strangely, Alice doesn’t remember any of the characters she met last time, though they remember her. The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp, doing another one of his thilly voithes) becomes her Tin Man, while Tweedledee and Tweedledum (both played by Matt Lucas), the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), the Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman), and other familiar Wonderland residents assist in her reluctant quest to get the special sword that can kill the Jabberwocky. It’s all very “Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.”
It also reminds me a lot of “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” in that it boasts gorgeous art direction, imaginative set design, and a surplus of whimsy, yet feels utterly hollow. Burton’s crew of craftspeople and CGI technicians imitate the look of the animated Disney version (Disney is releasing this one, too), vividly adapting it into a three-dimensional, fully inhabited place. They fill it with marvelous people and creatures: the March Hare (Paul Whitehouse), the Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover), the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), and so on, some of them real, some of them computer-animated, some of them a mixture of both. And then what do they all those seamless special effects and inspired visuals? They enact a generic, joyless adventure story. A hundred forty years to write a sequel and this is the best they could come up with?
C (1 hr., 48 min.; )