Alice in Wonderland

Tim Burton's gothic treatment of Alice is all-too conventional

In Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the heroine notices that there are only three guests at the Mad Hatter's famous tea party (with herself the fourth) but the table has many more pristine, unnecessary place-settings. The Hatter explains, "It's always tea-time, and we've no time to wash the things between whiles.' 'Then you keep moving round, I suppose?' said Alice. 'Exactly so,' said the Hatter, 'as the things get used up.' 'But what happens when you come to the beginning again?' Alice ventured to ask. 'Suppose we change the subject,' the March Hare interrupted." Mischievously, maddeningly, Lewis Carroll withholds for ever the secret of what happens when the tea-party guests use up the dishes – the story's action exists in the eternal present of a riddle.

Tim Burton has revealed 145 years later what happens when all the tea-things are soiled. His new movie imagines Alice returning as a 19-year-old to this strange land, to find that it is plunged in gloom. The tea party is still going, but all the dishes are wrecked, the cups have sprung leaks and the event itself is sited in some wasteland, like a depiction of the Somme. It is difficult to tell if this is an intentional answer to Carroll's original joke or just part of the inevitable goth darkness that Burton conjures up. Even Alice, played by Australian newcomer Mia Wasikowska, has dark shadows around her eyes.

Johnny Depp is the Mad Hatter, with weird gingery hair, enlarged, psychedelically coloured pupils, and an accent which lurches wildly from lispy BBC English to broad Shrek Scots. Wonderland, or rather, as it is known, "underland", is held under the awful tyranny of the Red Queen, well played by Helena Bonham Carter, as a hydrocephalic nightmare by Charles M Schulz. She has a tiny body and gigantic head, with a lollipop-heart shaped hairdo, a motif reproduced in a horrid little lipstick pout. Her wretched subjects need a champion to rescue them – Alice.

There are some funny exchanges, particularly between the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter, but for me the weightless, frictionless, whimsical world of fantasy is often, frankly, dull. Burton's visual design is of course highly distinctive, though even here I have to raise a complaint against the subliminal corporate-branding which makes the White Queen's palace look like the Disney castle logo.

As ever, I can't rid myself of the feeling that for all the funkily crepuscular mood that Burton creates, this is a pretty conventional work, and I feel that in my lifetime I have now seen enough quality adaptations of Alice featuring a cameo-rich gallery of big-time comics and thesps. This one features the talents of Matt Lucas, Michael Sheen, Stephen Fry and Alan Rickman. Why not do the next Alice movie on digital video with no big stars and no effects? Or is that one of the six impossible things that the White Queen said she could imagine before breakfast?

conjure up - wyczarowywać, wywoływać

crepuscular - wieczorny; dziejący się o zmierzchu; o przyćmionej świadomości

depiction - wyobrażenie, przedstawienie

frictionless - beztarciowy

gingery - rudy

inevitable - nieodłączny; nieuchronny

lispy - sepleniący (wymawiający głoski ‘s’ i ‘z’ jak angielskie ‘th’)

lurch - nagle zmieniać

mischievously - złośliwie, dokuczliwie

plunged - zanurzony, zatopiony

pout - nadąsana mina

pristine - nieskazitelny

pupil - źrenica

sited - usytuowany, umiejscowiony

soiled - zabrudzony

sprung leaks: to spring (sprang, sprung) a leak - zaczynać przeciekać 

the Somme: Battle of the Somme - Bitwa nad Sommą (lipiec-listopad 1916), największa bitwa I wojny światowej

thesp - aktor

venture - ryzykować, odważać się

wasteland - ziemia jałowa, nieużytki

whimsical - kapryśny

wrecked - zniszczony, rozbity

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