Alice Loses Her Way, And Her Charm, In 'Wonderland' Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland takes viewers back down the rabbit hole for even more outrageous mayhem. But Kenneth Turan says that in between the tea parties and the Red Queen's antics, Alice's story seems to have lost its wonder.
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Alice Loses Her Way, And Her Charm, In 'Wonderland'

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Alice Loses Her Way, And Her Charm, In 'Wonderland'

Review

Movies

Alice Loses Her Way, And Her Charm, In 'Wonderland'

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Now if this part of the program has a theme, it's that the wonders of nature can seem so strange, so amazing they could make you think of "Alice in Wonderland," Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland," which has been a favorite of movie makers for many years. The first version of that book was made back in 1903 - the first movie version of that book - a nine-minute, silent version complete with special effects. Our critic Kenneth Turan reviews the latest version, opening in theaters this weekend.

KENNETH TURAN: One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small, and the pills Tim Burton gives you do don't very much at all. With apologies to the Jefferson Airplane, that sums up the director's version of the Lewis Carroll tale that plays more like a Burton derivative than something he actually did himself.

Here, Alice is not a child but a 19-year-old returning to the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, hosted by Johnny Depp.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ALICE IN WONDERLAND")

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

M: (As Alice) Time can be funny in dreams.

M: (As Mad Hatter) Yes, yes, of course. But now you're back, you see, and we need to get on to the frabjous day.

TURAN: Frabjous day!

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TURAN: Depp's Hatter is a genuine fashionista, who we get to see frantically designing wacky headgear like there was no tomorrow. No one is better at weird than Depp, but this performance feels like the kind of weird we've seen before. That's true, as well, for Helena Bonham Carter as the dyspeptic Red Queen, Alice's major antagonist and someone who never met a head she didn't want to lop.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ALICE IN WONDERLAND")

TURAN: (As the frog) I was so hungry. I didn't mean to.

M: (As Red Queen) Off with his head.

TURAN: "Alice in Wonderland" also has the misfortune of being the first major 3-D release to come out after the "Avatar" revolution. When you add in that Burton chose to shoot in 2-D and have the footage converted, this film plays like one of the last gasps of the old-school way of doing things.

What is even more unfortunate is Alice's attempt to turn itself into a Wonderland version of "The Lord of the Rings," complete with masked forces of good and evil, headed toward a sadly generic CGI battle to end all battles.

With those battle scenes to please the boys, the film has taken special care about the girls, providing images of Alice as a warrior princess in full Joan of Arc armor as a female empowerment icon. While that kind of thing is always in short supply, it would be nicer if that image - and the movie as a whole - felt more authentic and original. Now that would really be a wonder.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. And if you'd like to spot a different version of "Alice in Wonderland," you can see that silent Alice from 1903 at our Web site, npr.org.

This is NPR News.

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