The original Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is a delicious Victorian oddity, a children's book whose bizarre dream world, unforgettable word play, and young heroine have captured the imaginations of artists as diverse as James Joyce, Dali, Jefferson Airplane, Jan Švankmajer, and, of course, Tim Burton.
It was only a matter of time until Burton tackled this classic, a dive into the subconscious littered with nonsensical rhymes and literally crazy characters. As the wonderful Annalee Newitz points out, "As [Carroll's] protagonist Alice moves from dreamy encounter to dreamy encounter, watching nursery rhymes coming to life and fighting bloodthirsty monarchs made of cards, we witness something that for the Victorians was just as stunning as a giant dynamo. Psychiatry was in its infancy in the 19th century, and this brave new science suggested there was a method in madness. The muddle of our dreams might illuminate the truth about human consciousness; the murmurings of madwomen could shed light on how so-called sane people think."
Sounds like perfect fodder for Burton and his misunderstood oddities and lovable outsiders, right?
Oh, so wrong.
As in the video game American McGee's Alice from 2000, a much-older Alice returns to Wonderland. In McGee's version, Alice is returning to a terrible place in shambles which she must fight through in order to get to the bottom of why it's falling apart in the first place. I'm not going into more detail here on the plot in McGee's Alice because there is a nice little twist that makes it a much more compelling story than Linda Woolverton's poorly paced script. Woolverton's script feels like an afterthought to Burton's desire to make a 3D Wonderland loaded with CG creatures. In actuality, the 3D effects were added later, making it a less authentic 3D experience than, say, Avatar. The AMC/Odeon squabbles might have been for naught, since Alice would be best enjoyed on the big screen, if only because there's so much going on, it's almost impossible for the human eye to keep up. And as wondrous as the talking animals are, as fabulous as the costumes are, as huge as the Red Queen's head is, it's nothing but a house of cards.