Alice in Lacklusterland

Mickey Caulfield

Never before has a movie been so subservient to the drug culture that popularized it and simultaneously averse to anything approaching psychonautics. Tim Burton’s 2010 adaption uses the colorful imagery that made generations of audiences love the original Lewis Carroll book and Disney adaptation, but strings it through an uninspired fantasy narrative more suited to Narnia.

Framed as a sequel, Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” picks up 13 years after the original left off, with Alice (Mia Wasikowska) venturing again into Wonderland to escape a loveless Victorian marriage. She meets familiar faces including the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), and Absalom the caterpillar (Alan Rickman), but fails to recognize any of them. Wonderland is now in a state of disarray due to the despotic rule of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and the inhabitants of Wonderland believe that only Alice can defeat the Jabberwocky (Christopher Lee) and put the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) back in power. Yawn.

The first half hour in Wonderland is interesting enough; seeing the iconic characters portrayed in live action by capable actors and updated with modern technology and sensibility is entertaining. Unfortunately, that’s all this movie has to offer.

The psychedelic element is simultaneously turned up and turned off; when the original book and movie were made, drug culture had yet to emerge, so the embrace of EAT ME, the hookah-smoking caterpillar, and the mad tea party by stoners and acid-heads was merely coincidental. But Burton, aware of the unavoidable link between Wonderland and drug users, has made the references overt.

At the same time, however, he’s made the story completely child-friendly; lamenting the lack of a cohesive narrative in the original (probably one of the things that made it popular with its main audience in the first place), he’s forced the imagery of the original into an inane narrative that wouldn’t be out of place in Narnia or The Golden Compass.

The result is a movie that won’t appeal to either of the audiences it could; teens and adults in search of a colorful visual trip don’t want to listen to Anne Hathaway talk about prophecy or see Alice don armor and fight a dragon, and little kids won’t understand or appreciate the Mad Hatter and Cheshire Cat’s altered demeanors.