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Phoebe in Wonderland

Strong, sympathetic performances anchor this wistful drama about a young girl, who retreats into her imagination as a way with dealing with life. Don't we all.


Phoebe (Elle Fanning) is a particularly bright and imaginative child, yet she's not entirely able to relate to her family and those around her. When she is cast in her school's production of Alice in Wonderland, she begins to confuse reality with fantasy – which causes problems at school and at home, exacerbating tensions within her family.


Like older sister Dakota, Elle Fanning is an uncommonly talented and persuasive actress -- and because the story is told almost entirely from her perspective -- a lot of it rests on her shoulders; she comes through with flying colors. Fanning is also surrounded by a first-rate supporting cast that includes Felicity Huffman and Bill Pullman as her parents, Patricia Clarkson as the sort of teacher whose unorthodox methodology endears her to her students, and Campbell Scott as the sort of smug, officious school principal with no ability to connect with children. Down the line, the performances are the glue which holds this film together.


This could have been an absolute wallow in sentiment, or a cable-TV "Disease-of-the-Week" movie, and although first-time writer/director Daniel Barnz can't entirely avoid it, he at least makes the effort to steer the film into the ethereal as opposed to the predictable (and pedantic). In trying to recapture the innocence and imagination of a young child, the film has its fair share of emotionally affecting moments – as well as some humorous ones. It's not a perfect film, but it's a laudably ambitious and worthwhile one.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 stars.