Forget Absalom,
the hookah-smoking caterpillar (voiced by Alan Rickman) -- chances are extremely slim that your child will think, "Hey, a talking blue caterpillar is smoking from a funny-looking contraption, I'd like to give that a try." A much more significant issue for parents with younger kids is what the MPAA calls "fantasy violence." Decapitation, for example, isn't a motif all children can handle, and there's a bunch of severed heads in the movie, a near execution and a whole lot of death sentences given out on a whim: the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) says, "Off with their heads!" in nearly every scene. There are also some rather creeptastic creatures -- the humongous dog-like Bandersnatch and the dragon-like Jabberwocky -- that could scare your early elementary schoolers, especially because of the added 3-D intensity.
'Alice in Wonderland'

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway
Director: Tim Burton
Rated:
PG, for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar.

Parent Concerns:
Forget Absalom, the hookah-smoking caterpillar (voiced by Alan Rickman) -- chances are extremely slim that your child will think, "Hey, a talking blue caterpillar is smoking from a funny-looking contraption, I'd like to give that a try." A much more significant issue for parents with younger kids is what the MPAA calls "fantasy violence." Decapitation, for example, isn't a motif all children can handle, and there's a bunch of severed heads in the movie, a near execution and a whole lot of death sentences given out on a whim: the Red Queen (Bonham Carter) says, "Off with their heads!" in nearly every scene. There are also some rather creeptastic creatures -- the humongous dog-like Bandersnatch and the dragon-like Jabberwocky -- that could scare your early elementary schoolers, especially because of the added 3-D intensity.

Watch the trailer:




Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) is a 19-year-old beauty who hates corsets and stockings, misses her visionary father and keeps having the same dream about falling down a rabbit hole into another world. On the day of her extremely awkward engagement, she stalls to give an answer and instead winds up following a White Rabbit down to "Underworld," a place it turns out she visited once before when she was seven. Guided by a band of loony characters, like the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), Absalom the Caterpillar (Alan Rickman) and twins Tweedledum & Tweedledee (Matt Lucas), Alice is told she must kill a creature called the Jabberwocky, defeat the sadistic Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and restore the lovely White Queen (Anne Hathaway) to the Underland throne. Problem is, Alice doesn't think believe she's the "right Alice" for the job, and she'd really just prefer to wake up from the elaborate dream she's stuck in than slay anything or deal with the cruel Red Queen... at least until the very end.

Here are three tips if you're going to see it, because you might as well get the most out of your $60 matinee outing.

Read It & See It: Ideally, it's best to read a book before you check out the film adaptation, since it's easier to spot major changes and get all Comic Book Guy on it when your favorite parts are omitted, beloved characters receive personality transplants, etc. That way if you say: "Worst. Adaptation. Ever," there's some authority behind the proclamation. But since that's not always possible, take the opportunity to find your old copy of 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' and 'Through the Looking Glass' if your kids seem interested in figuring out what's part of the original stories and what's not. Already have a budding Carroll scholar in the family? Talk about how Burton and the cast got it wrong -- or right.

Victorian Girl Power: This incarnation of Alice, who's nearly 20, is just as stubborn and uncompromising as her 7-and-a-half-year-old counterpart. Despite feeling pressured by her mother, older sister and even her intended mother-in-law to accept the proposal of a boring young aristocrat, Alice -- fresh off her Wonderland adventure -- stays true to herself, social expectations be damned. In Wonderland (or "Underland"), Alice rises to each occasion, remaining loyal to those who help her and ultimately emerging a champion who believes in her ability to accomplish the impossible. It's a wonderful lesson to young girls that their self-worth lies not in their physical beauty, but in their strength, their wit, their "muchness."

Go Ask Alice:
Can't get enough of blue-and-white pinafores, smiling cats and murderous Queens? Miss the scenes with Humpty Dumpty, the White Knight and the Duchess? You're in luck, as Carroll's two Alice books have been adapted again and again. Check out Disney's classic animated movie, the Broadway play, various TV movies and even the old network TV special. In fact, many of those productions were just re-released on DVD this week in anticipation of Alice-mania, so you and your family can have an in-home marathon if your brood is curious and curiouser about other versions.

Moviefone Mama's Three to See: Burton For the Ages

  • Kids: 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' is a great stop-motion animation movie to introduce the 7-and-up set to Burton's offbeat style. There's no other movie quite like it, with memorable characters, an awesome Danny Elfman score and an unforgettable look.
  • Tweens: 'Beetle Juice' has the entire Burton line up of black humor, creepy but hilarious characters and a little teen angst thrown in just for fun. No wonder Micheal Keaton was Burton's choice for Batman -- he's perfect as the charming people-exorcist.
  • Teens: 'Edward Scissorhands' is a fantastic choice for teens (I'll admit, I was 14 when it came out, so it's a personal favorite). It's a funny and sweet love story, starring (naturally) Johnny Depp, and it's one of Burton's best.
  • Bonus For Parents: 'Sweeney Todd' is a touch too violent (so much blood splatter!) for young teens, but it's a good parents-only pick. It's a fabulously acted (Depp, Bonham Carter and Rickman are all in top form) rendition of Stephen Sondheim's masterpiece musical.

The Moviefone Mama, aka Sandie Angulo Chen, also writes about family films for Common Sense Media.