Bearing about as much resemblance to its literary source as Electronic Arts’ Dante’s Inferno video game does to the fourteenth century poetry cycle it takes its name from, Tim Burton’s new 3-D version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland stands as a rather dire portent for things to come. If this is how film studios, particularly Disney, are intent to go about “reimagining” properties out of their back catalogs or the public domain, audiences would be better served to stay home and watch sitcom reruns; there’s less cynicism there.
Carroll’s stories didn’t make sense, not a whit, and that was their appeal. Alice follows a strangely time-obsessed rabbit down a tunnel and into a fantastic world where the laws of reality as she (and readers) understood them didn’t apply. She met curious characters and had curious encounters that wouldn’t even necessarily be called adventures. After it all, Alice seemed not so different, a touch more worldly, perhaps, but not necessarily any wiser. Carroll—a mathematician with a trickster’s heart—was less interested in teaching lessons (Victorian England already had a surfeit of moralizing storytelling) packed the stories with Catch-22 logic loops and nonsensical rhymes and puzzles, the sort of thing that appeals to precocious children and immature adults alike.
Now, normally, that target demographic is exactly who the films of Tim Burton are meant to appeal to, what with his patented mix of innocent whimsy and gothic obsessions. While Burton’s films were never exactly verbose or laden with quizzical conundrums, there was a definite affinity between their off-kilter visions and Carroll’s fantasies. What’s shocking, then, about Alice in Wonderland, is just how woefully conventional it all is.