Movie Review: "Alice in Wonderland" || Effects, YES || Story, NO

The movie “Alice in Wonderland” is a crude cinematic concoction. Prior to seeing this film, I refreshed my decades-old knowledge of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass,” those two ubiquitous tomes I recall reading around the dawn of time. I found a great deal of reconstituted information about the English author whose pen name is Lewis Carroll, some of which is quite hard to believe without supporting documentation. I am not sure even now what to think of the chap. I do know that director Tim Burton has had an uneven film career, but I have no particular feelings about him one way or the other. I liked at least four of his movies, and I always hope for the best -- both for the director’s sake and mine.

Some of the characters in the film I recall from my childhood. There is the lovely Alice Liddell (Mia Wasikowska), no longer a child, but a beautiful young woman of marriageable age; the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), who appears and disappears while sporting an evil, extra-toothsome grin and fluorescent body stripes; the Red Queen (Helen Bonham Carter), who has an exceedingly large head with red-yarn hair perched on it, as well as a tiny outline of a heart in lipstick on her mouth; and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), with deathly grayish skin, dark eyes, thick dark eyebrows, and a black mouth. One actor (Matt Lucas) voices the rotund twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee. The White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman) and Dormouse (Barbara Windsor) are well conceived.

Then, there is the matter of the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp). This dashingly handsome actor is transformed into a flame-haired, pale-skinned carnival oddity with bulging green eyes that reveal two different pupil sizes. I understand that might be a sign of brain damage should a doctor ever be called to diagnose it. Looking at and listening to Johnny Depp are particularly irritating in the movie. It isn’t the accent, because I’m fine with both British English and a Scottish brogue. What comes out of Depp’s mouth is somehow a contrived and coarse conversation with a generous lack of coherence and cohesiveness. At one point, I wanted a copy of the script so I could follow it with my pen/light – or maybe a DVD with “closed captioning” might do it.

Most of the main characters are computer-generated or at least computer-aided. Costume design and make-up are very original, but rather odd and grotesque at the same time. The film is crammed with cloying hues undiscovered by Crayola. I found myself queasy due to the 3-D glasses, and when the story heads down the rabbit hole into “Underland” – nausea erupted more than once. I watched most of the beginning, dashed out for a Diet Coke so I could resume watching until the end. I found myself struggling to find anything but a big fat race with about as much involvement as a child’s computer game. Whose fault is that?

Is there a central theme? Not really. The original works were parodies on the English class system and people in the British government. Nothing like that rings true here. There’s about 20 minutes of flagrant feminism at the beginning – as a young woman doesn’t want to marry the man who has been chosen for her. So she chooses another path… But wait! That seems to include going down that same rabbit hole for perhaps the third time to revisit things she remembers from her dreams. At the end, after a tantalizing tangle with a monster, the Jabberwocky (Christopher Lee), Alice decides she wants to go to China!

I give “Alice in Wonderland” a “C+” on Ellen’s Entertainment Report Card. It’s as murky as a mud pie, and that's a crying shame. Better luck to all next time.

Thursday, February 4, 2010