Malice for Alice

Alice in Wonderland
Empire Studio 12, Avalon Mall

Whether it’s Tom Jones singing “It’s Not Unusual” with an eagle on his arm, Batman duking it out with a ghoulish circus troupe in the cold of winter, or the mock-sinister designs of his animated films, Tim Burton has created some of Hollywood’s most imaginative visuals and set pieces. So, who better to adapt Lewis Carroll’s beloved Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking-Glass for the big screen?

We meet a grown-up Alice (a hopelessly bland Mia Wasikowska) sneering at the prospect of an arranged marriage. With her family eager to marry her off, Alice leaves her suitor standing and returns to the fantastical world she can barely remember. This seems like a good idea, as poor Alice has never seen Return To Oz.

Soon, Alice is having tea with the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp)—who resembles the love-child of Ronald McDonald and the aliens from Earth Girls Are Easy —who confirms that her destiny is to slay the dragon Jabberwocky (voiced by Christopher Lee).

Also, she wears lots of pretty costumes.

Alice changes clothes so often, it’s as if Burton is trying to apologize for Wasikowska’s lack of acutal charisma. But her performance is nowhere near as problematic as the film’s undercooked script. You’d think with the dramatic thrust of the film being on Alice accepting her destiny, time would be spent developing the Jabberwocky as a threat. Instead, its sole appearance is saved for the end, and Lee utters about two lines in the creature’s five seconds of screen time.

Throughout the film, we get neat little glimpses of the backstories of the many supporting characters, and the casting is spot-on, particularly Lee, Stephen Fry (Cheshire Cat), Helena Bonham Carter (Red Queen), and Crispin Glover (as Carter’s toady, Swain), but these inferences never come to anything, nor is the cast given anything to do except look impressive through all the CGI. The film never stops to connect one scene or one character to the next. The disjointed final product plays like a 100 minute trailer for a six-hour miniseries, hinting at an interesting tale that will never be told.

Those hoping for a definitive Alice after so many bad adaptations are going to be disappointed, though not quite to the level of the awful 1999 telemovie with Whoopi Goldberg and Martin Short. Nevertheless, you’re better off revisiting one of the better ones, like the Disney cartoon, the BBC adaptation, or the 1976 Alice porno musical that looked like it cost five cents .