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A little cheese and a little whine

Film Log: Alice in Wonderland

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The brief for this seems to have been: take the characters from Lewis Carroll and write something like Chronicles of Narnia meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a nod to Wizard of Oz. Oh, and make sure it won’t scare five-year-olds. The result is a film which manages to take two outstanding and stimulating minds and squeeze from them an utterly anodine and pedestrian offering which is sympathetic to neither. There is none of Carroll’s wordplay or love of paradox, and none of Burton’s beautiful darkness.

Carroll is not so much dumbed down as appropriated and repurposed in the crassest possible way, in the most objectionable tradition of American film-making. As for Burton, the film is so lacking in menace and mystery that you can’t help but feel that he was working with one hand tied behind his back.

The most grating single example of the way Carroll has been appropriated is the use of “believing six impossible things” as a sort of leitmotif. It is never uttered by the White Queen as Carroll wrote it, but is instead a sort of motto for Alice. Whereas Carroll presents it to make us wonder what we mean when we say “I cannot believe…” here it is just a way to link in the cut-and-paste-family-movie-theme of Alice believing in herself: in her denoument, she articulates the six impossible things she believes, the last of which is that she can accomplish what she has to. There’s nothing wrong with that sentiment, but it has nothing to do with Carroll:  it’s the colonisation of a philosophical puzzle to turn it into yet another vehicle for Disney values.

The only redeeming feature of this film is its vaguely feminist conclusion, but even that is rather tame: Alice rejects an arranged marriage, but accepts instead a rather lowly position in a company which we rather feel she ought to own.

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Filed under: Film + TV

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My Bookshelf

The Golden Bough
The Value of Nothing
The Fire
A Wolf at the Table
Devil Bones

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