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Alice in Wonderland: movie review

In Tim Burton’s hybrid ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ Johnny Depp plays a gentlemanly Mad Hatter to a very grown-up Alice.

By Peter RainerFilm critic / March 4, 2010

Actor Johnny Depp is shown as The Mad Hatter in a scene from the film, "Alice in Wonderland."

Disney/AP

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The betting line on the new Disney 3-D “Alice in Wonderland” was that it would be marvelous because the imaginings of its director, Tim Burton, are pronouncedly in sync with Lewis Carroll’s. But are they really? The movie is a decidedly mixed bag, in part, because of the equally pronounced disparities between Burton and Carroll – and between Burton and Disney, for that matter.

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When Burton made “Sweeney Todd,” he transformed Stephen Sondheim’s elegant blood sport into a charnel house. In “Alice in Wonderland,” Carroll’s maniacally witty and disturbing phantasmagoria inspires a lot of sinister Tim Burton-isms. The problem is, most of the Burton-isms are half-baked.

I wouldn’t have minded if Burton used Carroll as the merest of jumping-off points for his own nightmarish visions. What we have instead is a hybrid: Carroll’s hallucinatory wit crossed with Burton’s rank unseemliness rolled into Disney “wholesomeness.” (The script is by Linda Woolverton, who is credited on “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Mulan.”) In the end, “Alice in Wonderland” doesn’t work either as visionary entertainment or as plain old family entertainment.

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Burton has lifted ample amounts from both “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass,” but, crucially, he sets the story, for the most part, 13 years ahead of the material in the books, so that Alice (Mia Wasikowska), instead of being a preteen, is 19. Alice’s journey via rabbit hole into Wonderland (called Underland here), represents her second, not first, such descent. And her escape is mundanely motivated: She cuts out on an arranged marriage to an upper-crust twit.

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