Alice movie too dark for (most) kids

As you know, I’m a big advocate of what I call reading extensions.

They’re the added bonus events, movies, products and tie-ins that go beyond the book, and which may help some kids get interested in a book or explore a book more fully.

Alice in Wonderland
The other night, I saw Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

I enjoyed it. I thought it was a well thought-out interpretation of the book, with some nice visuals. (Why it had to be in 3D I’m not quite sure.)

But in my opinion it is not really a children’s movie. I had high hopes for it, but I have to say that it’s probably not a good reading extension for young children. Before you take your child to see this movie, I would urge you to either see it yourself, or check out some reviewers whose opinions you trust. (Here’s Roger Ebert’s review.)

Quick synopsis
Alice has previously visited Wonderland as a little girl. Now she has returned as a young woman to a very different Wonderland. The Red Queen has taken over, despoiled the landscape, and cast fear into the hearts of Wonderlanders. Everyone awaits “the Alice” who will slay the jabberwock and restore peace to Wonderland.

What’s different about the movie and the book
Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece (the book) relies heavily on the absurd. The Red Queen threatens to lop off everyone’s head, but they all know that you just have to run away and she’ll soon forget. In the movie, Burton’s queen organizes a public beheading in the town square.

The lovely bits of nonsense, like having to repaint the white roses red, are glossed over and put into a flashback. No one’s allowed to be very silly in this movie.

In the book, the Mad Hatter was mad as in loopy or wacky. In the movie, madness is flat-out insanity. As a result, we get a Hatter who is more Sylvia Plath than Daffy Duck.

That lovely character, the Dormouse, who walked such a fine line between pathos and silliness thanks to Carrroll’s elegant depiction of him, has been Hollywoodized until he is flat and common.

The scary characters like the bandersnatch and the jabberwock, whose terrifyingness was only hinted at in the book, are made all too real in the movie. The jabberwock is given its own plot line. And don’t get me started on “the vorpal sword.” In the book vorpal is an adjective. In the movie, it’s the sword’s title, as if there is only one sword that could be vorpal.

There are a couple of pieces of nice new imagery, such as Alice becoming Joan of Arc as she battles the jabberwock. The caterpillar is given a more prominent and quite interesting role in the movie. And they haven’t messed too much with the white rabbit, which is a good thing because he is a masterpiece as written.

But on the whole, while it may be an interesting movie, Alice in Wonderland 2010 is not for most children. It’s rated PG and listed in the “kids and family” category, a misnomer that I think is almost as egregious as calling Slumdog Millionaire “uplifting,” for which I will always despise those moviemakers.

Obviously, only you know your child and only you can judge what is or isn’t suitable. But I think that most young children would be scared by the red queen’s furious rants, the threat of the deadly jabberwock and the overall darkness of this typical Tim Burton-like fare.

As a palate cleanser, may I present Carroll’s original nonsense poem (which, incidentally I memorized as a young girl, which feat I would be happy to demonstrate to anyone who would ask, which hasn’t actually happened yet but I await…):

JABBERWOCKY, by Lewis Carroll
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.


  1. I wondered about the movie. I've never really thought of Tim Burton as a moviemaker for children. It just doesn't seem to be "him."

    I'm always keen for us to read the books before we watch the movies as I've always found that the movie version skews my visual image when reading the book. Does that make sense?

    So, we'll read Alice in Wonderland first and then see the movie. By then, my kids might be old enough!( We've a number of other books on our list already.)

  2. Joyce Grant

    That's a really good point, Maryjean – definitely kids should read a book before seeing the movie. And it's especially true with Alice in Wonderland, even for the animated Disney movie.

    With a really well-written book like Alice, kids should form their own images before being spoon-fed them by the moviemakers.

  3. trampolines

    as what i have noticed with tim burton's films, they're all dark…not so colorful for an animated movie…to mention those i have watched: the corpse bride and sweeny todd & the sleepy hollow(not animated though), they're all just dark and johnny depp is present..i think it's a tim burton signature

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