Alice in Wonderland

Without a Looking-Glass


06 March 2010| No Comments on Alice in Wonderland     by Sean Chavel


Extravagant but missing that precious quality that connotes that thing called enjoyment. That’s the gut reaction to Alice in Wonderland. Then again, it’s dicey to call this expensive 3D film “extravagant” when the visuals are dreck. But that is what happens when you try to turn a classic into something hip and contemporary for a new generation.

For reasons that are never explained to good purpose, the world is now called Underland and not Wonderland, although Alice (Mia Wasikowska, acting with her tense brow) has returned for the second time. She cannot remember the first time she was down there. But the creatures remember her, and the White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen) and Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry) act as her obliging aides.

Alice is 19, no longer a girl but not quite a woman. Her parents have thrown Alice a garden party so a nerdy suitor can propose to her. Alice excuses herself into a hedge maze before falling down the rabbit hole. These are the few fleeting enchanting scenes in the entire film. Although Fry as the Cheshire Cat manages to deliver lines that are warm and fuzzy.

Much dialogue is spent with Alice convinced that it is just a very deep dream, and something will spark to wake her up. In her entire visit in Underland, she is looking to get out. In earlier incarnations of “Wonderland” the rabbit hole was a wonderful place to get lost in. Now in director Tim Burton’s muddy fantasia the return to the real world isn’t soon enough.

The 3D experience of Burton’s “Wonderland” is seriously lackadaisical. Magical dragonfly organisms are lacking texture and look airy. Tweedledee and Tweedledum look like a couple of synthetic mushrooms with the authenticity of an old Nintendo game. Where’s the magic? The grubby plains and dead trees certainly don’t improve the sight either.

Liberal acts of creativity are demonstrated by punching up the Mad Hatter as a bigger character than in the Lewis Carroll books. The Mad Hatter, whose verbal patter is all razzmatazz, has to be rescued from the Red Queen before she commands execution (“Off with his head” is a line repeated endlessly), but you feel like they are bigger players only so Burton (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Sweeney Todd”) can spend more time with his favorite actors Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

Adventure builds to a climactic showdown between Alice and a Jabberwocky beast, and it is by this time that Burton’s entire visual palette for this film seems inspired by the work of Zack Snyder (“300”) and the videogame “Shadows of the Colossus.” Burton, in his newfound obsession for playing Frankenstein on beloved light-hearted classics, proves to be the wrong director.

Isn’t the world hungry for “The Wizard of Oz” like beauty again? Another “Alice in Wonderland” adaptation could have facilitated that kind of movie lover’s craving, that craving for candyland fantasia. I would have chosen Tarsem Singh (“The Fall”) to direct. Burton is wrong, dead wrong, in his methodology. His head seems stuck in the swamp.

I look forward to a new adaptation even though it would be a couple of decades before anybody tries this again. For the meantime, I’ll take the 1951 animated film of the same title, or Hiyao Miyazaki’s 2002 animated film “Spirited Away” which is as enchanting as any fantasy, and seeming closest cousin to Lewis Carroll, as any film in say the last twenty years. Take a look, Burton, wake the child inside again. File this “Alice” under biggest blunders of all time.

108 Minutes. Rated PG.


Film Cousins: “The Wizard of Oz” (1939); “Alice in Wonderland” (1951); “Neco and Alenky” (1988, Czechoslovakia); “Spirited Away” (2002, Japan).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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