In this film’s real world, Alice is 20 years old, about to be married off to a chinless wonder of the British aristocracy, and she escapes to Wonderland to evade responding to his very public marriage proposal. There she finds a “bad” female role model, the vain and cruel Queen of Hearts, and a “good” one, the morally superior White Queen, whose vows won’t allow her to kill anything or anyone. In Wonderland, she takes control, refusing to follow a supposedly predestined path in order to save her new friends. And Alice finally discovers that Wonderland is a real place, i.e. her “crazy” dreams are real and are worth pursuing—an insight that allows her to return to the real world, turn down the marriage proposal, and sail off to China, on a ship called—wait for it—Wonder. The whole thing is obvious, tired, and is spoon-fed to the audience, who—particularly the smart little girls who should love this story—deserve better.
Burton, who very early in his career worked at Disney as an animator, must have mixed feelings about doing a film now for the Mouse Factory. Some of his early drawings, recently on display at the Museum of Modern Art, depict the company as a soulless devourer turning out blocks of processed cheese product. Woolverton is part of the new, hipper Disney, having written or contributed to films that include The Lion King, Mulan, and Beauty and the Beast. Maybe this Alice is the film Burton thinks Walt Disney would want—humorless, plodding, but with an uplifting message. But Uncle Walt, for all his faults, would want us to have some fun.