(I'm turning over the blog this afternoon to Brodie H. Brockie, Michigan-based international man of mystery and editor of the Cap'n Wacky's Boatload of Fun site. He's got an insightful review of the "Alice in Wonderland" movie, so enjoy! And be sure to share your thoughts on the flick, too.)
I hated Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" for a wide variety of reasons. I could go on at length (and have to some of my more patient friends) about how it bungles many of the characterizations and ideas in Carroll's two Alice novels, and about how the whole experiment feels like the worst kind of internet fan fiction writ large (creepy sexual tension between characters with no such relationship in the original much?), but I realize I'm in the minority for caring about those things. Instead, allow to me explain why I consider Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" a failure in and of itself, and it's cheap attempts at girl-power sentiment actually a bit counter-feminist.
At the start of the movie, we meet Alice, a teenage girl on the verge of womanhood who lives life in a sort of frustrated stupor. Her father used to support Alice's independent thinking and vivid imagination, but since his death, everyone has been telling her what to do, how to dress, how to behave, what to talk about, and what to think about. All of this is pushing her toward making one terrible mistake: accepting a marriage proposal from a big-nosed, weak-chinned, stuff-shirted twit. At the moment of truth, Alice at least has enough spirit left in her to ask for a moment to consider, runs away, spots the White Rabbit, and falls down a hole into a world she'd dreamed about as a child.
Once there, what happens? Naturally, in this weird, dreamlike funhouse mirror world Alice encounters a twisted version of what was happening above: everyone is telling her what they expect of her, what she should do, how she should behave, how she should dress, and what their society demands of her. Granted, some of the things they're telling her are more positive: she needs to be stronger, more vibrant, and she needs to slay the Jabberwock.
It's her destiny, they tell her.
The problem is, what NO ONE wants her to do, above or below, is the one thing little Alice had been so good at. No one wants Alice to actually think for herself.
So what happens? Incredibly, Alice goes along with the demands of the Wonderland (now - gag - Underland) crowd, suits up in armor far more constricting than the corsets she's complained about previously, and slays the Jabberwock, helping overthrow one monarch with another that she (and the audience) knows pretty much nothing about (if this Wonderland was really the more mature story it wants to be, wouldn't we need to know more about the "good" queen than she wears all white and talks in a lilting voice. Are people really buying white=good as a mature update?).
To reiterate: the story tells us everything that's going to happen as soon as Alice arrives in Wonderland, and then goes through with it just as it laid it out. Not only is that boring storytelling, it's nonsensical (and not in a fun way) as far as Alice's development. How does she gain the internal fortitude to tell the stuffy English to stop bossing her around by ACCEPTING the Underlanders bossing her around?
Worse, the script almost stumbles upon a much better idea: early on, Alice encounters the Bandersnatch - he's no Jabberwock, but he's a pretty fierce creature too. Alice is saved from his initial attack by the Dormouse who pokes out the beast's eye. Later, to get by the Bandersnatch, Alice returns the eye, and this act of kindness transforms the monster into an affectionate ally.
This plot point would've been a great micro-version of the encounter with the Jabberwock. A thinking Alice might've had a conversation with the monster, found out what it wanted, killed it with kindness, and turned it into an ally against the Red Queen. Instead, she does the most boring thing possible - the very thing everyone has told her to do - the very thing we were told she would do over an hour before - off with its head! Yawn.
Some hail this as girl-power progress. Sorry: a smart lady turning off her best weapon and picking up a sword instead is no kind of progress at all.
Contrariwise, it's nonsense.