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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland might be rated PG, but it's pretty intense and scary at times for younger kids, especially because it's in 3-D. This trippy adaptation -- in which Alice is a young adult -- includes some fantasy violence with scary monsters that attack people, a cruel Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) who frequently sentences people to death, and a climactic battle scene between sword-brandishing humans, animals, and beasts. Some parents might want to know that a caterpillar (played by Alan Rickman) smokes a hookah, but this is as Lewis Carroll depicted the character. The language includes taunting insults like "stupid," "imbecile," "idiot," "bloody," and the like, and the sexuality is limited to one kiss between a married man and another woman and some aggressive flirting.
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What's the story?
As ALICE IN WONDERLAND opens, Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) is seven and a half and admits to her father that she thinks she's gone around the bend because she keeps dreaming about falling down a rabbit hole into another world. Thirteen years later, a now fatherless 19-year-old Alice finds herself being publicly proposed to until she excuses herself to run away and winds up following a rabbit -- you got it -- down a hole that leads to Underland, a magical place where she's asked again and again if she's THE Alice. Her new acquaintances, who include a white rabbit (voiced by Stephen Fry), a Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), a chain-smoking caterpillar (Alan Rickman), and roly poly twins Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (Matt Lucas), reveal that if she IS the "right" Alice, she's destined to slay the evil Jabberwocky (Christopher Lee), defeat the bloodthirsty, big-headed Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), and restore the peace-loving White Queen (Anne Hathaway) to power. To do the seemingly impossible, Alice must accept that Underland isn't a figment of her imagination and fulfill her destiny.
Is it any good?
While Lewis Carroll purists will scoff at the aging of his curious young protagonist, most movie audiences will enjoy this colorful world. Tim Burton's Alice doesn't have the wide-eyed wonder of the 7-year-old Alice, because well, she's a bit jaded and thinks her adventures in the offbeat land are just part of an elaborate dream from which she'll eventually awaken. Alice in Wonderland represents her second time to Underland ("Wonderland" is what her silly younger self apparently called it), but she can't remember her earlier adventure. The story does seem, as other critics have suggested, a bit too similar to the search for the One True Ring, but so what? A nearly 20-year-old doesn't need a chess game and nursery rhymes, she needs a purpose to propel her courage. So that's what screenwriter Linda Wolverton provided the older Alice -- a way to discover her true nature in a mad, mad world.
Wasikowska is a golden-haired vision (she looks like a young combination of Cate Blanchett and Gwyneth Paltrow) of adolescent girl power. She doesn't need to be affianced to a stuffy, weak-chinned "Lord," and she's spectacularly brave while remaining a subtle, soft-spoken, self-assured young woman. What's so charming about the story is that Alice is like the wise caterpillar, about to transform into something else entirely. Even the cold-hearted Red Queen isn't purely evil. Her (literal) big-headedness has made her awfully insecure, and because of that she delights in inflicting pain on others. Bonham Carter is, as always, brilliant as the petty and jealous sovereign who really just wants to cuddle up with her head henchman Stayne (Crispin Glover, obviously delighting in playing the creep again). And then there's Depp, who at this point must share half a brain with Burton. His Hatter is bonkers all right, but he's also funny, self-sacrificial, and courageous. There's no one else who could've played the part, because Depp is a master at portraying loopy men you just can't help but love.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Alice's nonconformist attitude in Alice in Wonderland. How does she buck cultural expectations? In what ways does her adventure in "Underland" change Alice?
What do you think about Mr. Kingsleigh, and later Alice's adage that "all the best people" are a bit "mad"? What do you think the Mad Hatter means that things are only impossible if you believe them to be?
The Red Queen is cruel but sad. What are some reasons she's so mean? Are there compelling reasons to be angry at her younger sister, the White Queen?
Those familiar with the Lewis Carroll books: Compare this version with the original source and other adaptations. Do you like this Alice as a much older heroine?
- In theaters: March 5, 2010
- On DVD or streaming: June 1, 2010
- Cast: Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska
- Director: Tim Burton
- Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Book Characters
- Character strengths: Courage
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar.
- Last updated: November 11, 2020
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