Disney’s live-action/CG take on Alice in Wonderland may have had a mixed reception upon release, but the film’s huge worldwide draw of $US1.02 billion meant that, for better or worse, a sequel was most likely going to be greenlit. And here we are, six years later, with a follow-up that is, at best, a visual distraction for confused little ones and, at worst, an eye-rollingly dull CG fest that will have parents imploring their children to take a bathroom break.
Based on Lewis Carroll’s follow-up to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking Glass finds an older, much more adventurous Alice (Mia Wasikowska) arriving home after three years sailing the seas and exploring the world. Not long after her arrival in London, Alice finds herself in a predicament. Does she continue her life of adventure or leave it behind for what she considers to be a dreary life of conformity? But before that decision is made, Absolem, the caterpillar voiced by the late Alan Rickman, tells her she is needed back in Underland. Through the looking glass she goes.
What follows is a mash-up of half-cooked ideas and computerized visuals, coating a narrative struggling to move past its simplicity. Alice’s adventure in Underland has her trying to save the Mad Hatter –Johnny Depp, doing his caricature thing again- from something to do with his past. Cue a clumsily planned time-travel plot that loses steam faster than you can say, “Wait…what?”
The plot is undeniably lackluster. A strong narrative backbone is sorely absent, with no dramatic tension and persuasive motivation for any particular moment to lead into the next. Sure, the Mad Hatter has a bit of an issue, and yes, Alice cares for him, but it’s the unnecessary rigmarole we are forced to endue before any sort of clarity is offered that ultimately hurts the picture. Furthermore, by the time we do learn of Hatter’s history and the necessary actions needed to rectify the issue, the lack of strong characterisation throughout leads to little sympathy points from the viewer. It’s an origin story of sorts, for a number of characters, but don’t expect to care.
For an adaptation of Carroll’s highly creative literary work, which offers up a canvas for all matter of abstract concepts and designs, Alice Through the Looking Glass is surprisingly unimaginative. To be clear, the film’s artistic elements can often be eye-catching, even with the occasionally questionable CGI. The production design and art direction is confident, colourful and generally elaborate, clear evidence of the budget size a Disney production can afford. And yet, you’ll be hard pressed to find much that stands out, in terms of both story and visual inventiveness.
Tim Burton has not returned as director here, instead taking on the role of a producer. At the helm is James Bobin, who does a serviceable job with the thin material, primarily the detrimentally light-weight screenplay by Linda Woolverton. This reviewer was not impressed with Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland, but at least hints of the director’s brand of dark humour and design were still present. Bobin, who previously brought us two Muppets movies, follows Burton’s lead closely, repeating his predecessor’s irritatingly manic tone and design palette without the air of originality the first film benefited from.
Wasikowska tries her best to be earnest but ultimately fails to rise above her character’s deeply simple traits, and Depp, well, you know what Depp you’re getting here already. Sacha Baron Cohen puts in the effort with the somewhat interesting character of Time, visibly trying to give his character more than is on paper, but he doesn’t quite muster what is needed. And that on-and-off-again accent doesn’t help either.
Thankfully, Helena Bonham Carter, reprising her role as the Red Queen, is actually quite good. The actress has fun with the role, chewing scenery at every opportunity, but always keeping the character infused with a balance of humour, anger and, most importantly, heart.
Another positive mention will go to Danny Elfman, who puts in great work with his score here, building on the pieces he crafted for the first go-around and pumping up sequences as best he can.
Alice Through the Looking Glass is a strange barrage of undeveloped ideas. The film’s early attempts at feminism, for example, are heavy-handed and tacked on, although kudos are in order for not providing Alice with a clear-cut love interest. Also, the hints of insanity that Alice is provided with serve no purpose, giving her one more tangent in a film almost bursting with what feel like inconsequential developments.
An unnecessary sequel through and through, Alice Through the Looking Glass has some visual merit, but not much more than that. Disney has much, much stronger films hitting the multiplexes at the moment, skip this one and hit one of those.
THE REEL SCORE: 4/10