Tim Burton and Disney's $1B CGI, 3D-ized Alice in Wonderland arrived at just the right time. In 2010 we were coming off the history-making box office of James Cameron's Avatar, and audiences were fascinated with 3D's potential. Was the film any good? Well, it looked pretty, but was perhaps the worst example of the cold lifelessness of computer animated saturation. Now six years later Disney is cashing in again with Alice Through the Looking Glass, and unfortunately for it, audiences are well aware of its tricks this time.
Resembling nothing that author Lewis Carrol ever wrote; Alice Through the Looking Glass is a nonsensical mish-mash of half-baked ideas. Are we quite sure the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) isn't responsible for the screenplay rather than the returning Linda Woolverton? She cooks up a story that seems to do everything in its power to make us hate every single character in Wonderland, most of all Alice (Mia Wasikowska) who can rightfully be called the villain this time around. Of course she's not framed that way. Years have passed and she's been off acting as a sea captain, battling fierce pirates only marginally less terrifying than the crashing waves. When she arrives back on land, the real world intrudes on her sea-faring career path. Society frowns on a young woman in such a dangerous field, and Alice's former fiancé Hamish is keen on buying her boat and forcing her into a boring clerk job.
The real world segment has no bite. Carroll was pretty good at weaving such social commentary into his work but here we know it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is when Alice arrives back in Wonderland. It doesn't take Alice long before she does, aided by Absalom, the caterpillar-turned-butterfly voiced by the late great Alan Rickman. Hearing his voice again will stir up emotions in you than the rest of the film won't.
All is not well in Wonderland. The Mad Hatter isn't really mad anymore; he's the Sad Hatter. A found memento reminds him of his dearly departed family, who were all burned to a crisp by the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and her fiery Jabberwocky. Okay...so why is this a big deal? Everyone, including the preening White Queen (Anne Hathaway), the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), and Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Matt Lucas), think it's a big deal that the Hatter gets his mojo back. So Alice steals from the master of Time (Sacha Baron Cohen, who may be aping Christoph Waltz) a device that will allow her to travel back in time and fix everything that's gone wrong. The down side? Oh, it threatens to rip the very fabric of existence asunder. Oops, but Mad Hatter really needs to be crazy again. That's more important.
The premise couldn't be more flimsy, and every time Alice tries to explain to Time that destroying all life to save her friend is worthy it comes off as ludicrous. The story can never really escape that, hard as it may try, and kids seeing the film will be taught that selfishness is awesome and everyone should just accept it. Not sure that's what Woolverton and director James Bobin were going for. The only thing less convincing than Alice's quest is a meager "revelation" about the beef between the sibling Red and White Queens. You think they've been tart to one another before now? Trust that it gets much worse. Also, despite being integral to the narrative we don't get to see much of Depp at all. And when we do he just looks like a weirdo with a really bad makeup job. There's little compelling about the Hatter, and certainly not enough to convince us he's worth risking the universe over. Why doesn't someone just slap him and say "Get over it"?
In taking over for Burton, James Bobin does a decent job of mimicking his predecessor. From a technical standpoint the film is gorgeous, especially Time's mechanized clockwork realm. But unlike Disney's superb The Jungle Book, there's no emotion or life behind all of these green screen landscapes. So we know Disney knows how to pull this sort of thing off; they just haven't been able to do it with their 'Alice' movies yet. If Alice Through the Looking Glass makes a ton of money none of that will matter. But if it doesn't, hopefully they'll spend some precious time making sure they get the next one right, or better yet, stopping the clock on this franchise altogether.
Rating: 1 out of 5