ALICE IN UNDERPANTS - Thoughts on Tim Burton's version.

I figured I will post a pictureless afterthought on this film. I am still posting this from my Playstation 3 so don't expect anything fancy.

I will not hold back on stating anything that could be a potential spoiler, as this post is more intended for those who have already seen the film.

To get this out of the way before hand I will say now that I did not like this film, so you can expect the kind of tone my writing will be. This should not discourage anyone to not see the film, rather, one should watch this movie and share their thoughts based on one's individual experience.

The film was shot in 2D and converted in post-production. The 3rd dimension was not spectacular enough for me to warrant sitting through the entire feature-length with the discomfort of the one-size-fits-all glasses. Basically, it was no where near the immersion you'd expect after seeing "Avatar" in 3D, so I suggest seeing this film in 2D on a day when tickets are on discount.


I found this movie abysmal. The saddest part is that it looked fantastic and the design was amazing, yet all this talent was gone to waste on such clumsy story-telling. I feel the best place to begin my elaboration is on the leading lady herself: Alice.

Alice was too erotic. She was sexy, but not too permiscuous. The result is a fine balance which should be able to please the majority of the audience. As she shrinks or grows, her dresses do not shrink or grow with her (which I thought was a clever idea). When Alice shows off her body the sex-appeal is enough to turn heads of a male audience, yet her beauty and self-confidence will bring out admiration from the female audience. It sounds like a perfect plan on paper, yet it somehow diminishes any interesting qualities in her character. If she is too busy thinking about how her dresses are fitting it is any wonder how she is capable of carrying the plot forward. There is nothing wrong with a good fashion sense in film, the dresses were very lovely indeed (although perhaps more suited to the catwalk over any practical use), but they should not get in the way of the story unless they have a purpose. Take for example the film "The Devil Wears Prada". Despite its disappointing ending (I think she should have stayed with the magazine) it is a great example of a fashion-driven movie, as it is a story about fashion-journalism. In Tim Burton's "Alice", the fashion seems to serve no other purpose than diverting the viewer's attention from the sloppy writing. This film was not so much movie-magic but a movie-magic-trick. The razzle-dazzle graphics are like this wavering hand which distracts your gaze from the other hand reaching into a pocket, except instead of pulling out a coin or some object the hand stays in the pocket and furiously masturbates. The other hand just keeps on waving about yet some of us have already noticed the pocket and all we are waiting for is to see how much of a load he's going to shoot in his pants.

It is about time I discuss what it is about this story I found made it so awful. I imagine the screenwriter (Disney's all-time hack Linda Woolverton) probably thought the "Alice" books would have been better written by J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis. Either way I could not seem to find any appreciation for Lewis Carroll in it whatsoever, in terms of the story that is, I must stress I loved the visual designs of the movie.

There were many moments in this film I deemed Tolkienesque; riding on the backs of large beasts, menacing flying monsters, when the Hatter was reciting the Jabberwocky poem as if it were a legend of history, big castles, etc. The most obvious Tolkienesque moment staring you right in the face is the large battle sequence - the ultimate showdown - except the sequence felt like it was handled like the croquet-game in the book (was it intentional?). It all ended up very silly, no sense of real danger to "our favourite" characters. After all, they are merely fighting a bunch of vector floating-points generated from computer software. I'm not saying that a sense of danger can't be achieved with CGI, as long as the story is told well enough for the viewer to suspend their disbelief and build up enough interest in a character for us to care about. The best example in my opinion is Golem from Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, but you can't get more Tolkienesque than Tolkien. I think the writer should have stuck with being Carrollian.

Among many downsides to the story, I think the biggest culprit is the Cheshire Cat. The execution of the cat was flawless; the design, the animation and Stephen Fry's voice - all perfect, all wasted on his role as the biggest pitfall of the story - to be used as a device for the writer to resolve any challenge, any obsticle, as they see fit, also known as the "God Machine". If you think about it, the film never explains what the Cheshire Cat can't do. We see him de-materialise, re-materialise, fly, grow, shrink, transform to perfect detail into another character (save for his eyes and grin, kind of like a pokémon?) and oh yeah - you see that moon? That's actually the Cheshire Cat! One can argue that his allegiance belongs neither to the red side or the white, he acts upon his own motivations, except that he's always conveniently helping the good guys. To think, the Hatter managed to escape the Red Castle with Tweedledum & Tweedledee, with the Dormouse and with the dog's wife and pups all unscathed all because the Cheshire Cat wanted to wear the Hatter's hat! An idea struck me - imagine if the Cheshire Cat was the villian. The story would become at least a hundred times more compelling! Imagine the ultimate challenge is to defeat the Deus ex-Machina himself! Alice would have more reason to break down and cry, just at the hopelessness of it all. The Jabberwocky would not even stand a chance, Cheshire Cat would swallow it whole and then vanish like it never existed. Then everything doesn't have to be resolved. Alice could end up doing more harm to "Underland" than good, but just the task of defeating the Cheshire Cat alone would render enough catharsis from the story. An example of this kind of story can be found in Werner Herzog's "Fitzcarraldo". The protaginist ultimately failed in his goal in building an opera-house, but still accomplished the colossal feat of shifting a boat over a mountain! It was a real live boat too, no scale-models, special effects or studio tricks. Of course it is debatable wheter one considres "Fitzcarraldo" a good film, but in the end you can claim you have had a real film experience. Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" left me feeling defeated, like realising Alice died a long time ago and this is the final nail in the coffin. I feel even more defeated in that I might be in a minority of a minority of those who thought this was a bad film.


The pacing was too erratic. Many parts were slow or fast at random, a lot of things were dwelt on that had no relevence or point, any thing that did have relevence or plot-movement was rushed. It felt like there was this one deleted scene, which forced a huge chain upon chains of other scenes to be taken out. There was a definitely a whole air of something missing. I felt cheated as we rush straight to the mad tea party, it's about the second thing that happens to Alice once she walks through the door. From there we are introduced to the Hatter, whose presence remains throughout the entire film. He kind of wears out his welcome, mostly due to his madness being toned down (or 'held back'). And his dance at the end? After all that build up? I could have cried. Whether the dance works for the film or not is debatable, but I didn't like it.

If there were something missing in this film it would be a whole cast of other interesting characters. Off the top of my head I would have liked to see Tim Burton handle the Gryphon, the Mock Turtle, the Newspaper-man, the Goat, the Lion & the Unicorn, the Sheep, Humpty Dumpty, maybe even the Walrus & the Carpenter. We are only stuck with the most popular or widely known characters, ones that people who haven't read the books would even know about. Come to think of it, whatever happened to the Dodo anyay?

I found Alice to be rather bland and uninteresting, when you look past all the nice clothes she wears. In the story it is noted she has lost much of her "muchness", yet even as she regains her "muchness" (could it pinpoint down to when she crosses the moat to enter the Red Castle?) there isn't much there.

The film was far too over-scored. A typical treatment one might notice in high-budget studio films is when they are drowned from start-to-finish in music. It has been proven that if you want intensity, take the music out! Exciting, swelling fast paced score will destroy the mood by the fact that it's trying to dictate it. When there is a tender emotional moment, the cliché violin will only serve to break away your empathy. Music can serve many purposes, it can even set a mood, but what it can't do is take you on a rollercoaster of mood-swings, especially on a film as erratic as this one.

Lastly, that parchment-thing with the illustration of Alice slaying the Jabberwocky (a nod to John Tenniel I'm sure), just where the heck did it come from?!


As I have stated before, I loved the visual interpretations of the characters, I only wish there were more characters and that they were written better.

I thought the floating heads in the moat were morbidly awesome. When Alice had to climb over them, and her foot fell into the gaping mouth, was delightfully creepy.

I always love to see visual interpretations of events in the book, especially the obscure events or if they were handled differently. I was a bit unsure with seeing Alice fall down the rabbit-hole so quickly, but it went on for a fairly long time which brought me momentary satisfaction. She lands hard on the floor, as if it barely hurt, so once again I'm confused as to whether we have warped gravity or Tim Burton just being weird. My answer arrives when we discover Alice is really upside-down and falls through another floor - Tim Burton is just being weird. It is around here where Alice goes through the routine of the events in the book; she tries all doors, key on table, tries key on doors, finds little door behind curtain, key works, can't fit through, drinks from labelled bottle, shrinks, forgot key on table - we break away from the routine when a couple of omnipresent voice-overs discuss "you think she'd remember all this from before", "I told you she's not the right Alice!", I almost begin to switch off but then Alice finds the cake, eats cake, grows, gets stuck, and it's here that she doesn't cry, so then I switch off again. What I noticed what was unique to this interpretation was how Alice does not talk or think to herself as she does so much in the book and other films. This allowed the scene to be played out more like a routine, rather than an adaptation, and it gave way to a more smoother pacing, which for some reason I really enjoyed.

One more brief moment I liked was a shot of the Hatter in prison, similar to an event in "Through the Looking Glass" where the White Queen relays this information to Alice, there was an illustration of "Hatta" in prison by John Tenniel, so I found that particular shot in the film interesting, whether it is what they intended or not.


When a writer feels they need to diverge away from the story of the book, this is a valid form of creativity. What went wrong here is the drastic changes to the heroine. Granted, she is grown up, but the book had the character portrayed so right - you fall in love with Alice much more than you'd want to have sex with her, even if you were as much of a pedophile as Lewis Carroll himself - and the film failed to accomplish this. Fortunately you don't have to be a pedophile this time around to find Alice sexy.

In diverging from the books (even for those who aren't) it is common-practice to cross elements from Looking Glass into Wonderland. This time we have "Underland", probably a portmanteau of the original manuscript's "Under Ground" and "Wonderland" (as the film describes Alice as simply misinterpreting when she was little). I often describe crossing the two books as "playing chess with a pack of cards", only that's what sort of happens in the film anyway. At least I was assured that when we entered through the rabbit-hole and not through the looking glass there would be no clever Looking Glass logic or intricate chess-game structure.

I thought I'd have an issue with the merging of the Red Queen and the Queen of Hearts, but it surprisingly worked well i.e. from a design standpoint. It contributed to the story as a Red Queen having an ironic fascination with the heart symbol - as a pre-ordained desire to be loved more than feared - versus the White Queen, who I can't really describe more than any kind of symbolic interpretation of whiteness can. The merging of Red Queen and Queen of Hearts is complimented by the Red Knight being merged with the Knave of Hearts. I thought it was an interesting idea to get to know the Red Knight more up close and personal, as we are hardly acquainted with him in the book, it becomes an area open to creative licence.

An unlikely merging was that of the March-Hare and the Duchess' Cook, I don't have much comment on that.

I don't take issue with "Underland" being a real place rather than Alice's dream, as much as I hate the whole "you have to believe" schtick. Perhaps it wasn't as thought through by the writer, but it can be read into much deeper. The ending of "Through the Looking Glass", as well as dialogue from Tweedledee & Tweedledum, suggested that these stories were not dreams of Alice but dreams of the story teller. It all gets a bit meta when we talk dreams about dreams but you don't really need to dwell on it too much.

A final thought goes to how much attention was payed to the Jabberwocky poem. In the book the poem plays no significant role to the story on a whole, even its creatures are not considered as chess-pieces by Carroll's "Dramatis Personae". I have more to say about the Jabberwocky in another post, once I am able to post pictures again.

Well that's it, that's all I have to say. Stay in school, read more books, and I'll see you in court.


  1. Excellent read, every bit as over-analytical as I have come to expect from you.
    My own post ended up being more of a look at all the Alice films, I didn't end up discussing the new one as much as I was going to originally. Thankfully you covered everything I forgot to mention, like the unbearably saturated musical score and the fact that it feels less like Alice in Wonderland and more like Alice in Mordor. My own comparison was this recent glut of Narnia-style films which, of course, were based off the Lord Of The Rings movies but aimed more at kids.
    Probably my biggest issue with this version of the film is that it was confused. It couldn't make up its mind about what it wanted to achieve.

  2. Haven't seen it, but overscored is unfortauntely a trademark of this kind of movie..


    AKA Steve C.

  3. Hi Pokey, thanks for the insight.

    Over-scoring a movie is a tradition that falls way back to the days of silent-film when you had nothing but score. Ever since dialogue and sound effects became available there still remains the grand old tradition of a composer over-compensating for being paid too much money to think they have the most important job of the film. "Mood" is a strange word to define, if anything it is the natural emotions we swing through depending on the ambience around us. I have a theory that music isn't so much composed as it is discovered, similar to the vein mathematics, but in this case it's to do with mood. Who is it that dictated the minor chord must be sombre and contain properties of looming sadness? Or the major chord, striking a resonant tone with the mood of joyous celebration? What is dissonance and harmony to a composer?

    In the end, this review is more about my resignation. I give up on trying to analyse where it comes from (or where it's going) because, as you say, being "this" kind of movie, there is no hope for someone like me who has enjoyed one too many "other" kinds of movies to enjoy "this" one.