(2010) Try to imagine six impossible things before breakfast: drinking something that makes you shrink, eating something that makes you grow bigger, talking animals, grinning cats, a place called Underland, and slaying the Jabberwocky. If you can do all that, you might also be Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) in director Tim Burton's re-imagining (I watched ii in 2-D rather than the 3-D version), through Linda Woolverton's screenplay (with its occasional references to Dorothy in Oz), of Lewis Carroll's two books of a fabulous verbal fantasy.
Unfortunately, the film, while visually and aurally appealing with CGI animation mixed with actual actors (forming a familiar cast of characters given new lines and acts) and Danny Elfman's music, has transformed the stories of Wonderland and Behind the Looking Glass into an underwhelming action fairytale. Sometimes a few hundred pages of prose are worth more than thousands of images on film, especially when most of the original words have been removed and replaced with inauthentic nonsense.
At nineteen Alice, who has had the same nightmare of falling down a rabbit hole since she was six, arrives with her widowed mother Helen (Lindsay Duncan) at Lord and Lady Ascot's estate for the purpose of providing their son Hamish with a public occasion of asking Alice to accept his marriage proposal. Ever expected to conform her life to others' directions while observing the social hypocrisy surrounding her, Alice flees from the decision at the gazebo in pursuit of a white rabbit in a waistcoat (voiced by Michael Sheen), plunging down a hole after him.
Experimenting with a liquid ("Drink me") and a cake ("Eat me") - all along believing she's dreaming and can control the course of events - she achieves a size small enough to pass through a diminutive door into an incredible region where the anxious white rabbit and obese opposite twins, Tweedledum and Tweedledee (voiced by Matt Lucas), hoping she's the "real Alice," take her to Absolem the blue caterpillar (voiced by Alan Rickman), puffing on his waterpipe, for confirmation or condemnation.
"Hardly," he pronounces just as the Bandersnatch attacks, clawing Alice's arm, before Dormouse (voiced by Barbara Windsor) plucks out the beast's right eye with a needle. The "real Alice" is a messiah who, as foretold by the scroll of events, will recover the Vorpal sword and on Frabjous Day slay the Jabberwocky, releasing Underland from the cruel rule of the bulbous-headed Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), allowing the younger, beautiful sister, the White Queen (Anne Hatheway) to regain her right to the usurped throne.
Meanwhile, also knowing of the predicted future, the Red Queen ("Off with their heads!") sends out Stayne the Red Knave (Crispin Glover), wearing a heart-shaped eye patch, and Bayard the bloodhound (voiced by Timothy Spall) to capture Alice.
Alone Alice encounters the apolitical Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry), who introduces her to the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) at a tea party with Dormouse and the March Hare. From here the Mad Hatter (longing to perform his Futterwacken dance again in celebration) takes on a much larger role than in the original, guiding tiny Alice toward her rendezvous with destiny.
When Alice (having become larger than everyone else) makes acquaintance with the Red Queen ("It is far better to be feared than loved"), she refers to herself as Um from Umbridge. I suspect Lewis Carroll may have taken umbrage with much of this modern mischief. As for the Mad Hatter's riddle, "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" consider that in the 19th century, an escritoire would have had ink quills of feathers and a book possesses wings with which to soar.
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