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Alice in Wonderland

by Leonard Maltin
March 5, 2010 5:00 AM
67 Comments
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How you react to this film will have a lot to do with your expectations. I didn’t expect a work of genius. In fact, I approached it with trepidation, worried that Tim Burton’s weird sensibility layered on top of Lewis Carroll’s already-surreal material would create a kind of overkill. I’m happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised. First things first: with no disrespect to Burton, this struck me more as Linda Woolverton’s Alice. As the principal screenwriter of the Disney features Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Mulan, she has solid experience creating strong female characters. Here, she has reinvented Alice as a willful 19-year-old girl (nicely played by newcomer Mia Wasikowska) who flees from a stifling arranged marriage and falls down a rabbit hole. She has no memory of having visited this magical world once before, as a child.

Most of the familiar touchstones of Lewis Carroll are still here, from Alice’s initial re-sizing to her encounters with the cool caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat, but the journey—and its underlying purpose—are new, along with various supporting characters. Alice is now in search of herself, more than anything else, and the film calls on her to assert both inner and outer strength to vanquish the forces of evil. (I won’t give away more than that.) Some viewers will warm to these fresh ideas, while others may resist.

I, for one, delighted in Helena Bonham Carter’s performance as the Red Queen; she’s wonderfully funny because her narcissism seems real, not a comedy shtick. Crispin Glover follows her lead, lending genuineness and gravitas to his portrayal of the Queen’s most loyal subject, Stayne, the Knave of Hearts.

As for top-billed Johnny Depp, he brings his own brand of lunacy to the role of the Mad Hatter. A flashback sequence shows us how, when and why he went mad, but the end result is somehow less amusing (and likable) than Hatters past. Depp is always interesting to watch, but this is not his finest hour.

In a way, he represents the film’s split personality. Taken on its own terms, this Alice in Wonderland has much to recommend it: clever ideas, bright performances (including superior vocal performances by Alan Rickman as the caterpillar, Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat, Michael Sheen as the White Rabbit, and Timothy Spall as a bloodhound named Bayard), impressive visual treatment, and an appealing heroine. Overall, I enjoyed the film. Do I think it will take the place of more traditional treatments of the famous story? No. It all comes back to expectations.

My greatest disappointment was the use of 3-D. It’s no secret that the film was shot with traditional cameras and later converted to the dimensional format. It shows. I have never been less impressed with 3-D. The imaginative CGI sets would seem to invite an imposition of depth, through the 3-D process, but my eyes became desensitized after a point. What’s more, in the wake of Avatar, where James Cameron invited us to immerse ourselves in a rich, dimensional environment, audiences have every right to expect more from the 3-D experience than this movie can offer.

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67 Comments

  • karen | April 19, 2010 5:35 AMReply

    i didnt like the fact that the cat was gray and blue. i like him pink and purple ! he was cuter that color :( lol

  • Scarlet Pumpernickel | March 6, 2010 7:09 AMReply

    Took granddaughter to see Alice in Wonderland last night. Loved it! Wonderful evening for grandmother and granddaughter!

  • nicolette lachance | March 6, 2010 3:41 AMReply

    i very well enjoyed J depps part in the movie s swear he was born for that role!!! : )

  • bruce | March 6, 2010 3:38 AMReply

    The British reviewers have been mostly unkind on this film and one thing they have attacked was Bonham Carters performance as the Red Queen because it was a total rip off of Queenie from Black Adder 2 t v series and if i didn't know better Miranda Richardson could of been playing the role.But what they failed to realize was it was the perfect way to play this character.I loved the film and personally thought the 3D looked pretty good but apart from Avatar the last 3D film i saw was Jaws3D so maybe i'm not a good judge.

  • Bill | March 6, 2010 1:46 AMReply

    I just saw this with my two boys ages 8 and 12. We all enjoyed it very much. It was a fun movie to watch. I agree though about the 3D treatment, it's not very good. I'd like to see it again in the normal format.

  • j | March 6, 2010 1:04 AMReply

    Does alice have to be the one to fight the red queen.
    How long is the movie.




    STATES95

  • Sally | March 6, 2010 1:01 AMReply

    Hey Yall im going to see that movie tommorrow I bet its gonna be awesome im going to see it with my best friend!! :) :)

  • Dorthe Kenzie | March 6, 2010 1:01 AMReply

    i think that this movie is going to be fun

  • Maggie | March 6, 2010 12:53 AMReply

    Alice in Wonderland was fantastic. Burton brought a different element to the story and it had an outstanding cast. Nothing was mentioned about Ann Hathaway's performance, one of her best yet. She did a superb job being opposite Helena Bonham Carter. And yes, the voices were spot on. But bashing the 3D is pointless, I don't need 3D to know a movie is good. Burton didn't even want the 3D, I'm sure it was all Disney's idea to have it put in after Avatar's success. I personally thought Avatar was absolutely horrible. The plot line was a cliche and the story was boring. Pocahontas meets the Smurfs, that was Avatar. Alice In Wonderland blows it out of the water.

  • maria | March 6, 2010 12:51 AMReply

    this is a super crappy movie!! it is the worst movie Disney has ever made and I can't believe that they would even put their name behind it. I do NOT reccommend anyone to see this.

  • Andrea | March 6, 2010 12:17 AMReply

    OH COOL I was gonna go c it not in 3D

  • Jim Embree | March 6, 2010 12:12 AMReply

    Thanks for your preview. I'll now be able to brace myself and know more what to expect. I plan to see Alice tomorrow in Imax. It just so happens that I recently re-read old classics last summer, this time in the Penguin Classics edition. What I found amazing was that the precursor to Alice's Adventures was written by Carroll with his own pen and ink drawings as a Christmas gift to a little girl named Alice Lyttle, then 12, the daughter of the dean of the college at which he was a professor. In an odd, grotesque way, the story of Alice's adventures is a work of love. Yet when you read it you see Carroll had nothing in mind but amusing a young girl. With nothing lewd or suggestive of the obscene in it.
    It speaks to the story of Alice having become a myth of our culture that a story-teller (film maker) could tell the story his own way! Carroll would be proud of such a legacy.
    Wish you hadn't told me how tiring the glasses get with the 3D! I didn't see Avatar, so I may not find it as defective on the technical end as you did; hope not!
    Thanks for the review!
    Jim

  • just me | March 6, 2010 12:05 AMReply

    Saw it at the IMAX. I was very DISAPPOINTED with this movie! it SUCKED! Its really hard to understand what the characters are saying half the time! i wouldnt recommend it. It has no action, just lame, and that is because im not a picky person. :/

  • Richard Neva | March 6, 2010 12:04 AMReply

    Keep the world amuzed with bread and circuses and the rich shall inherit the earth. Who the hell needs another hackneyed film with same old Johnny Weirdo Depp, he is the same Scissor hand he always was. Nothing new there ever. As long as we are mesmerized by silly little ditties the power drunk thugs that rule us will have another field day.

  • q3w4ytqwt | March 5, 2010 11:59 AMReply

    aMESGN/Lew4kmg

  • Brian | March 5, 2010 11:58 AMReply

    The new format sucks Leonard. "Leonards Picks" should be continious......you need to revise this before I give up. That would be a shame because I have followed you for many years

  • zach | March 5, 2010 11:56 AMReply

    ooo my god hhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiiii

  • Alejandra Alvites | March 5, 2010 11:56 AMReply

    Thanks alot for this review!=] Iam going to go see the movie: "Alice and wonderland this Saturday with my friends and i wasnt really excited about watching that movie. But this review really makes me have excitement to go see it.

  • JJJzAngel | March 5, 2010 11:55 AMReply

    I have just returned from my adventures in wonderland, and found it fambulous...Go enjoy the moments,

  • cdub | March 5, 2010 11:54 AMReply

    also - burton is known for having strong females in his movies..he seems to see the the 'weird' beauty in many of them

  • alexzander | March 5, 2010 11:53 AMReply

    I am dying to see Alice and Wonderlandd sence I hear it came out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • christy | March 5, 2010 11:47 AMReply

    i've anticipated this movie for a year, and was not disappointed..burton's recognized use of color with grays is brilliant, and the outfits of alice are eye-catching. girls will be wearing ribbons on their arms soon, for it is a cute look!

  • christy | March 5, 2010 11:44 AMReply

    again, tim burton did not let me down!

  • NC | March 5, 2010 11:40 AMReply

    I agree with some of the comments made about this movie especially the 3-d aspect. Because I saw Avatar, I expected and desired more effect through 3-D but was disappointed in that aspect. Otherwise this was a great movie to see and my favorite character was the Red Queen!

  • Bryan | March 5, 2010 11:36 AMReply

    It had no songs. Lacked any whimsical scenes and made Alice into a man at the end. Tim burton killed Alice and created Alex.

  • Kara | March 5, 2010 11:26 AMReply

    Can't wait to see this movie! Alot of my friends have said horrid things about it but Tim Burton very rarely lets me down and either does Jonny Depp so we will have to see! !!!

  • Robbie Harris | March 5, 2010 11:21 AMReply

    Why do I have to see it in 3D. I only have one eye. It is not helpful to those of us who only have one eye

  • Robbie Harris | March 5, 2010 11:20 AMReply

    Why do I have to see it in 3D. I only have one eye. It is not helpful to those of us who only have one eye

  • Sarah grace | March 5, 2010 11:18 AMReply

    This movie was awesome!! these people did an awesome job!! 5 star!!

  • Sempraseverus | March 5, 2010 11:10 AMReply

    Absolutely Brilliant ...
    Great storytelling coupled with delicious eye candy ... I'm ready for another dip into that pool ...

  • Sugar | March 5, 2010 11:03 AMReply

    Leonard Maltin looks deformed like Roger Evert. Nobody wants to see another gay rendition and computer generated piece of poopie like this. But I'm sure it will make billions of dollars just like Avatar, with no authentic way of accounting for these revenues.

  • slducey | March 5, 2010 11:02 AMReply

    didn't like Alice in Wonderland as a child still don't won't watch this movie

  • LissyGirl1992 | March 5, 2010 10:49 AMReply

    Sooooo glad to read this review! I'm actually going see this movie in a short period of time, and before i read this, i had no idea what to expect. My only fear is that this movie will clash a bit too much. Plus, i'm not sure if it'll be cheesey and childish, or imaginative and fun for all ages... I hope the best for this movie, but am not so sure how it will turn out. With the performance of Johnny Depp, i'm sure the minimum rating would be 4 stars, but one can't judge.

  • Anne | March 5, 2010 10:48 AMReply

    Please do not tell me that you are actually comparing this excellent movie to the recycled trash that was Avatar. I was much more immersed in Alice and not only found myself believing in everything I saw in front of me but I also forgot I was in a theater in the first place.
    And Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter was funny, adorable, and fearsome all wrapped up into one. I found his character to be very deep and I sympathized with him when Alice decided to return to her own world.
    All in all it was engaging and entertaining movie that I would definately recommend unlike other overhyped movies that have come out recently. *cough* Avatar *cough*

  • Laura | March 5, 2010 10:39 AMReply

    I work at AMC in Danvers MA and I saw a pre-screening of it. I absolutely loved the movie (but I am a little biased in the sense that I love Johnny Depp and Tim Burton's other films). I thought the 3D was great especially when Alice fell into the hole or when she grew. If you enjoyed the cartoon version done by Disney, you would like this because it is (almost) a sequel to the first one. Another version of Alice to see if you haven't is Alice on the Sci-fi channel. It was very strange (considering) yet enjoyable.

  • ba | March 5, 2010 10:39 AMReply

    It is sad that a beautiful child's story was destroyed by the making of this film. What people won't sacrifice for the love of money. The money is ugly and creepy.

    Alice in Wonderland to created to allow the child to image. Now with this movie I hope the imagination does not turn to creepy!

  • Madison Hamby | March 5, 2010 10:38 AMReply

    omg i want to c it soo bad like me and my friend was going to c it butlike i et its pack

  • TheFranchiseSports | March 5, 2010 10:23 AMReply

    Whenever you get Alan Rickman, you get great acting.

  • Paul Hinnebusch | March 5, 2010 10:17 AMReply

    Although I would like to see this movie I will not be seeing it . Since it is in 3D and requires red / green glasses , it is virtually unviewable by the 10 % of males and the 1 % of females who are red / green color blind . Watching it with or without those glasses produces only a blur , in some cases , a head splitting blur . If it ever comes to non-3d T. V. , we may thne have the pleasure of watching it .

  • brittney | March 5, 2010 10:16 AMReply

    the face looks so real but the body looks like a dolll and she looks pretty and strange with the doll body YIKES

  • aubriana | March 5, 2010 10:06 AMReply

    this is going to be a very good movie!

  • jambusters | March 5, 2010 9:59 AMReply

    me and my friend are in that play!
    i am the chesire cat
    she is the white rabbit

  • Dennis | March 5, 2010 9:57 AMReply

    I have enjoyed every thing else Tim Burton has done, I'll see it on that alone.

  • mystery man 99 | March 5, 2010 9:49 AMReply

    i think it follows the book the movie was made for ... towards the Looking Glass Wars... by frank bedder who;s a good friend of lewis carrol ... n in the looking glass wars.. it even explains that lewis caols not only vision of alice in wounderland are not entirely true but the story line caroll follows is that she immagined the world b4 visiting it...read the looking glass wars.. then the second book called seeing redd ... the first book even said at the end there would be a movie.. in a few year based on that book with lewis carrolls permission... and im very disapoinyed in the fact that frank beddor isnt even listed in the credits.. which is totally hipacritical about and double standard like.

  • jonathan | March 5, 2010 9:43 AMReply

    yo. alice is the best movie ever. u should just go see it no stuff about this stupid stuff! just go spend ur money and see it.
    u wont regret seeing it...

  • hannah | March 5, 2010 9:39 AMReply

    I hate your movie.

  • cynjane | March 5, 2010 9:29 AMReply

    I enjoyed this film! The story structure (plot changes and new characters) were not offensive to me at all. In fact, I liked how they tied the whole together! And it was a visual feast, so I was more than satisfied. However, the 3-D treatment did fall down, I agree, when compared with Avatar. (And I hate wearing those darn things over my own glasses!) I missed a few of the original bits -- like the Carpenter and the oysters. And the repetitive previews took some of the delight out of bits like the Red Queen resting her feet on the pig and the sight of the Mad Hatter. But overall, I'd highly recommend this film.

  • kelsey | March 5, 2010 9:19 AMReply

    Great article. Straight from the hear.t I'm looking forward to seeing the movie now. I too thought it would be lame but this has insprired me to follow your review

  • howardroark | March 5, 2010 9:16 AMReply

    hmmm... read a review that said the movie not only deviated from the original story, but was rewritten to be some feminist manifesto and the theme was largely misandrist.

    nice going, depp, you feminized douchefag.

  • stanleyguerrier | March 5, 2010 9:05 AMReply

    stanley

  • DeWyzeBaby | March 5, 2010 8:52 AMReply

    thanks for the greate article. now i know what to expect. hope to see the movie 2nite or tmrw!!! :D

  • Phyllis | March 5, 2010 8:47 AMReply

    Timothy Spall is amazing in any role he plays! I can't wait to see him in this one.

  • o | March 5, 2010 8:30 AMReply

    cant wait to see premodonna queer Johny Deppshit

  • Joseph Gomez | March 5, 2010 8:18 AMReply

    Tim Burton and Johnny Depp together again for another great movie!!!! A great dark masterpiece of movie making magic!!!!!! J.G.

  • Kayla | March 5, 2010 8:16 AMReply

    I find it very rude how you think Johnny Depp's performance wasn't Fabulous and how you think the 3D is "I have never been less impressed with 3-D." I also don't like what you said about Tim Burton. I LOVED THE MOVIE!!!!

  • honest123 | March 5, 2010 8:13 AMReply

    that movie just looks fucked up the helen carter thing looks almoest as weird as that photo of johnny depp

  • Michael | March 5, 2010 8:12 AMReply

    I completely disagree with most of the things in your article. Alice in wonderland the sci-fi epic is exactly in step with the likes of the golden compass and chronicles of narnia which we already seen quite a few times. Most of the acting in film was really good except for Carter and Depp whos both renditions of their characters were so uncomfortable to watch it was more awkward than they were zany or creative. The two out of the three most memorable characters are not even likeable. However I liked Mia Wasikowskar and alice's story until the last couple of scenes which felt like they were tacked on and unnatural. The story at one time was so broken and made no sense (hatter's arrest).

    Burton did not do a good job of transitioning the scenes it felt like riding on a old mo-ped in a street filled with pot-holes. On Tim Burton's part i couldnt tell if he was catering to really small children or older tim burtons fans. As the theme switched from being way too dark to way too childish on a constant basis. Like you said your opinion on the movie deals alot with expectation. In truth I felt un-prepared as the movie felt quite heavy. From what I saw of the trailers I thought I was going to see a comedic, loony adventure instead i got lord of the rings directed by tim burton. Maybe they should let fans really understand what they are seeing before we see it. The graphics were okay but what really should've been the back burners to the movie were in fact the best parts about it. Which really is not saying much at all.

  • Barbara Deappolonio | March 5, 2010 8:04 AMReply

    Johnny Depp DOES NOT SPEAK CLEARLY IN ANY OF HIS MOVIES>>>>THE LAST ONE< WE ROLLED BACK MANY TIMES TO HEAR HIM>>>>DOES NOT SPEAK CLEAR ENOUGH FOR THE PUBLIC DOESN"T HIS AGENT TELL HIM THIS??????????????????????????????? I stopped watching him...

  • Anabel V. | March 5, 2010 7:51 AMReply

    I thought the movie was great! But thats just my opinon. :D

  • nogard0 | March 5, 2010 7:51 AMReply

    is this another alice in a similar type of scenario of american mcgee's alice (but not as bloody) ??? gee i was hoping for the original type in 3d, not another current social commentary.

    we have already seen one alice that went back years later in an film released very recently, i think it was put out on tv by hallmark.

    now another in close succession ?

    my favprites are the disney animated one AND the whoopi goldberg as the cheshire cat one.

  • Wil | March 5, 2010 7:49 AMReply

    How you react to this film will have a lot to do with the amount of hallucinogenic and psychotropic drugs in your system.

  • b. | March 5, 2010 7:32 AMReply

    dude, avatar was hardly dimensional. i'm not saying that alice will be a good movie. i actually plan on avoiding seeing it- as tim burton is incapable of not overdoing everything he f**king touches.
    however, to my original point.. even if the 3d in this movie sucks, the only good thing about avatar's 3d was the phosphorescence. there was no dimension to the film at all, and despite the fact that i was well prepared to immerse myself in cameron's world, i spent the entire time just waiting for it to end.

  • Amanda Sanchez | March 5, 2010 7:31 AMReply

    I saw Alice in Wonderland last night at midnight, and considering it's my favorite Disney movie, I absolutely loved it, although the movie itself is a bit dark, but that was to be expected with Tim Burton directing it. The whole movie is awesome, and I'd go back to see it another hundred times!

  • Christy Mair | March 5, 2010 7:30 AMReply

    I liked the 3-D version and I liked that the Chesire cat was blue and grey instead of purple and pink.

  • Ray | March 5, 2010 7:27 AMReply

    I won't be seeing Alice, or taking my grandchildren to see it.
    Wouldn't it be nice if Hollywood could, just for once, make a good film from a children's book that is not clearly aimed at adults. Carroll wrote his book for a child. I don't think he would have been happy to see his Alice portrayed as a willful 19 year old fleeing a "stifling" marriage. Neither am I.

  • Geo | March 5, 2010 7:23 AMReply

    I really hope they did not disrespect the Lewis Carroll classic. All the advance gimmicks are cute, but sometimes Hollywood has a way of screwing up a good thing.

  • celia osborne | March 5, 2010 7:22 AMReply

    wow!!!

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