March 5th, 2010 By ALISTAIR ROCKOFF | News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Beware the Jabberwock: Alice in Wonderland Reviewed

Tim Burton's 3-D tea party opens today. The movie was screened after WW print deadlines, so here's our review.

Alice in Wonderland

ALICE IN WONDERLAND

WW Critic's Rating: 42

A couple months ago, I braved the lines at New York's Museum of Modern Art to see the retrospective on Tim Burton. We were pilgrims, we young Burtonites, crowding around the sacred totems of our suburban childhood. Nostalgia? Sure. But I still have faith in Tim Burton. When kids grow up, they'll forget the Republican head-banging of the crappy new Batman films, and rediscover the Gothic romance of Burton's originals. They'll forget Andrew Kevin Walker's angry screenplays for The Wolfman and Se7en, and remember his work with Burton on Sleepy Hollow. And one of these days, Burton will make a movie to erase the furry fascism of James Cameron's Avatar.

Sadly, Alice in Wonderland is the worst thing Tim Burton has ever done, a Christmas hangover that barely surpasses Avatar and Sherlock Holmes. Burton's collaborator on Disney's The Nightmare Before Christmas, Henry Selick, beat him to the punch last year with Coraline. That Portland production updated Lewis Carroll for modern children, and used 3-D glasses just enough to boost the presence of stop-motion animation. Since there are so many Wonderland movies, including Disney's own 1951 cartoon, the company has enlisted Burton to direct a live-action sequel in, yes, 3-D. As with Avatar, the 3-D busyness made my eyeballs miss the forest for the trees, and I longed for just the two dimensions, thanks very much. Burton has also gone in for wall-to-wall Star Wars effects. Most of the talking animals are ugly and annoying. But perhaps worst of all, Burton is still stuck in the Anglophile depression of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd.

Like the writers of the recent Sherlock Holmes movie, Disney scribe Linda Woolverton takes a beloved fish and fries it up with the greasiest English nationalism. While Sherlock became a sadistic mix of Oscar Wilde and James Bond, Alice has grown into the female equivalent, Jane Eyre as The Woman Who Would Be King. She flees from an arranged marriage into the Wonderland she forgot. But Burton has turned the place into a videogame warzone, littered with the ruins of his past: the topiary garden from Edward Scissorhands, the Dutch windmill from Sleepy Hollow. That Jabberwocky poem you loved so dearly? Turns out it's just another messianic prophecy, and Alice has to play Saint George and slay the dragon. Castrate it, really. I guess it's better than the hero raping the dragon in Avatar. This is like when George Lucas informed us that “the Force” was actually made of “midi-chlorians.” Playful nonsense converted to pompous nonsense.

Alice seems awfully bored by the whole thing. Who wouldn't be? Her escape from Victorian England is no less Victorian. It's feminist Disneyland. In the book, I remember Alice almost drowning in a pool of her own tears. Young adult Alice, played by Mia Wasikowska, expresses only virtue. When she shrinks and grows, her clothing is replicated, then resized, then retailored, in an awkward cover-up of any sexuality. By the end, she's ready to reject her suitor and colonize the East. How the hell did Alice in Wonderland become Nixon in China?

Burton is a lover, not a fighter, but his big, dumb epic has its moments. Computer graphics allowed James Cameron his fetish for biology and technology; they allow Burton his gift for human caricature. Unable to romanticize his heroine, Burton turns to the mother of his children, Helena Bonham Carter, casting her as the villainous Queen of Hearts. She's magnificent. A lonely Elizabethan tyrant, she has the same giant noggin as the Martians in Burton's Mars Attacks! She soothes her inferiority complex by cutting off heads and pouting at her lanky lieutenant, Crispin Glover's Knave of Hearts. Anne Hathaway amuses as the White Queen, a prissy pacifist who throws up in her mouth at the first sign of aggression. Burton imagines civil war between the two queens as a final absurdity, but it's not absurd enough. And oh, yeah, Johnny Depp's in it. He plays the Mad Hatter as a case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Classy. PG.

Alice in Wonderland opens today at Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century Eastport 16, Cinema 99 Stadium 11, Cinemas Bridgeport Village Stadium 18 IMAX, City Center Stadium 12, Cornelius 9 Cinemas, Division Street Stadium 13, Evergreen Parkway Stadium 13, Hilltop 9 Cinema, Lake Twin Cinema, Lloyd Center Stadium 10 Cinema, Lloyd Mall 8 Cinema, Movies On TV Stadium 16, Oak Grove 8 Cinemas, Sandy Cinemas, Sherwood Stadium 10, St. Johns Twin Cinemas and Pub, Tigard 11 Cinemas, Wilsonville Stadium 9 Cinema.
 
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