Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

2010, PG, 108 min. Directed by Tim Burton. Voices by Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Barbara Windsor, Paul Whitehouse, Timothy Spall. Starring Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., March 5, 2010

Long gone is Lewis Carroll’s nonsensical idyll: In this topsy-turvy take, Alice (Wasikowska) is 19 and about to be married off to a Victorian prig (Leo Bill). Dodging his very public proposal, Alice chases a rabbit through a topiary garden and down to Wonder, er, make that Underland, as it’s called here. Those suffering from apocalypse fatigue will likely shudder at Alice’s first steps out of the rabbit hole: It’s all dead vegetation, smote spirit, and survivors’ guilt. Turns out that while Alice was away, the Red Queen (Bonham Carter) unleashed holy hell – or coup d’etat – snatching the crown from her sister the White Queen (Hathaway) and deputizing the Knave of Hearts (Glover) to do her bidding (reign of terror, lawn games, etc.). Everybody’s been expecting Alice – it’s been prophesied that she’d return to slay the Red Queen’s favorite beastie, the Jabberwocky (a screeching pterodactyl that looks like what would happen if the original etching of Through the Looking Glass illustrator John Tenniel bedded down with something from Predator). Alice, however, is unconvinced she’s the girl for the job, which means we’re in for a rather rote tale about self-actualization (in this regard, there’s a strong resemblance to screenwriter Linda Woolverton’s earlier Disney work in Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Mulan). Perhaps overtaxed with the outsized expectations inherent to the 3-D format, director Burton (Edward Scissorhands) rushes the entrée into Underland and goes big early – too big, too early – with a violent, incomprehensible chase sequence. The first act is very nearly unbearable, leaden and doomy and generically plotted. Say a little prayer, then, for Depp: His Mad Hatter could have been mere circus-act material, but instead he plays the lunatic hatmaker like William Wallace with PTSD. It works – sometimes transcendently so. The script riffs on the Hatter’s famous preoccupation with “how is a raven like a writing desk?,” and one of Depp’s line readings of that eternal unknowable is downright Shakespearean. Woe, then, to the creative team who OK'd his third-act jig. And so it goes: Every stellar moment within is met with five more clunkers, and tonally, there’s a deeply imbalanced mirth-to-muck ratio. Who would’ve guessed that Burton, a man who’s made a career spelunking for fun in cannibals and corpses, could produce such a joyless film? There are bright spots, certainly – a few of the more comic actors manage to puncture the film’s overall dourness (see Little Britain’s Matt Lucas as Tweedledum and Tweedledee), and the many animals are digitally rendered quite beautifully. But considering what a to-do this massively budgeted entertainment is, that doesn’t add up to much. “Curiouser and curiouser,” indeed.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Alice in Wonderland
'Alice in Wonderland': Drawn down the rabbit hole again
'Alice in Wonderland': Drawn down the rabbit hole again
The universal appeal of Lewis Carroll's story inspires 45 local artists in a new group show

Barry Pineo, Dec. 14, 2007

More Tim Burton
Bite Into Fantastic Fest
Bite Into Fantastic Fest
Black-and-white dogs, monster-themed vodka cocktails, and more

Virginia B. Wood, Sept. 21, 2012

More Tim Burton
From the Vaults: Tim Burton & Johnny Depp
From the Vaults: Tim Burton & Johnny Depp
Reviewing our reviews of the 8 Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaborations

Marjorie Baumgarten, May 11, 2012

More Tim Burton Films
Another Disney live-action remake, but this one has a little magic

Kimberley Jones, March 29, 2019

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Tim Burton directs this film adaptation of the creepy kids' favorite

Marc Savlov, Sept. 30, 2016

More by Kimberley Jones
Fly Me to the Moon
Scarlett Johansson is the best thing about this kinda-silly, kinda-sweet space-race rom-com

July 12, 2024

Two musicians tumble into a romance in Badlands country

July 12, 2024


Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle