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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Brenda Chapman
scr Marissa Kate Goodhill
prd Leesa Kahn, James Spring, David Oyelowo, Steve Richards, Andrea Keir
with David Oyelowo, Angelina Jolie, Anna Chancellor, Jordan Nash, Keira Chansa, Reece Yates, David Gyasi, Clarke Peters, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ned Dennehy, Michael Caine, Derek Jacobi
release US 13.Nov.20,
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
This film's almost too-clever script mashes up origin stories for both Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. It's an ambitious idea, even if pretty much everything feels naggingly contrived, and even if director Brenda Chapman and an uneven cast make it so wistful that it never connects with real life. So while it's inventive, this awkward concoction is both too magical and strangely lacking a sense of momentum.
In a Victoriana British countryside, 8-year-old Alice (Chansa) plays imaginative fantasy games in the woods with her brothers Peter and David (Nash and Yates). Then just before stern Aunt Eleanor (Chancellor) can send him to boarding school, David has an accident that leaves the family shaken. To help their troubled parents (Oyelowo and Jolie) with severe money problems, Alice and Peter intrepidly travel into London on their own private mission, teaming up with a group of lost-boy street urchins. But the family's crisis only deepens, and maybe the answers are in Wonderland and Neverland.
The story is recounted by the grown-up Alice (Mbatha-Raw), nostalgically remembering her fantastical adventures as a young girl. The shimmery, over-lit cinematography makes everything look artificial, and it doesn't help that the whispery dialog feels insistently self-important. There's also a problem in the way the plot lurches through disconnected scenes without isolating a point of view. All of this makes the movie feel oddly dull, even if the children's fantasies add a few enjoyable bursts of colourful action.
Oyelowo and Chancellor bring a grounded quality to their roles, gibing the film some texture. While the gaunt Jolie plays everything to the rafters. At the centre of the story, Chansa and Nash are likeable and engaging, holding the interest even if what their characters do feels contrived. Colourful side roles add some interest, including Gyasi (as a ruthless loan shark), Peters (as a jittery hatter) and Dennehy (as a slippery gambler). There are also fine cameos from stalwarts like Caine and Jacobi to liven things up.
With its dense flurry of iconic imagery and literary flourishes, this film will strain to entertain children, even as the odd moment carries a zing of intrigue. But both Chapman and writer Goodhill fail to develop the story and characters, falling back on tired cliches rather than diving further into the imaginative tales they're playing with. What remains is an awkward melodrama that seems to miss the point of both classics. Which leaves the big fantasy climax feeling strangely empty.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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