Tim Burton‘s 2010 retelling of Alice in Wonderland is one of the more ghastly blights on his career yet is his most successful with a worldwide box office pull of $1 billion. It gave Lewis Carroll’s absurd stories a tether, a hero’s journey plot that resembled nothing close to a surreal fantasy romp of puzzles and nonsense as much as it did a generic fantasy adventure that could at best be called a lower level version of a Wizard of Oz adaptation mainly existing to further Tim Burton’s reach in Hot Topic stock and give Johnny Depp another reason to frump around in pancake make up and a silly wig. It’s a conundrum that befuddles even the biggest former Burton fan like myself, realizing that probably the least inspired and imaginative production of a once visionary voice is his largest success.
So after that made a ton of money, the cynical wheels of Disney realized they could squeeze more out with a sequel. This sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass wasn’t directed by Burton, who only serves as a producer here as he hands directorial reins to British director James Bobin (the recent Muppet movies, Flight of the Conchords). There are moments in Alice Through the Looking Glass that show the potential of giving a mind like Bobin’s a budget of this scale as he revels in the vast array of colors in even the darkest sequences, unlike Burton’s dower overlay. The character designs alone show so much more creativity than Burton’s version, from The Red Queen’s minions made of vegetables to the clockwork mechanics of Time’s palace. Bobins’ former Da Ali G Show boss Sacha Baron Cohen plays Time, who’s hamminess that often grates is a bit more controlled here, channelled into a Christoph Waltz impression that’s more humorous than not. Time works as a sort of villain for this world because he has to exist to keep some order in Underland, serving as a pompous bringer of inevitability that even this magic realm must face: passage, aging and death. That ego creates an enjoyable contrast with the characters of Underland that adds more than a few chuckles to otherwise dull proceedings.
The devil of the dull is in the details, though. Namely, the decision Alice Through The Looking Glass makes to show us the origins of these Underland characters. Because if there’s one thing we needed for these weird fantastical characters, it’s removing any sort of mystery. Do you want to know about the Mad Hatter’s family? How the Red Queen got a big head? How the White Queen and her grew to hate each other? All is revealed here in flashbacks that waste time in the second act showcasing tedious information and have no impact given that Cohen firmly establishes that you cannot change the past quite early on. So Alice’s motive to fix the past is ruined, leaving Mia Wasikowska relegated to the same role she had in the first film. That is to both have a rushed arc about “appreciating family when you have the chance” and to state what’s obviously just happened visually so as to make sure the morons in the audience that are looking at their phones know what happened miliseconds ago. It’s so contradictory that this movie trying to promote feminist ideals completely removes the agency of its female title character.
Alice of Alice Through the Looking Glass mainly serves as a vehicle to get from set piece to set piece and pale white celebrity in silly outfits to pale white celebrity in silly outfits. Such pale white people include the ever mugging & voice changing Johnny Depp continuing the character that officially flushed his credibility down the toilet, Anne Hathaway waving her hands in front of her face as an excuse for whimsy and Helena Bonham Carter screaming instead of building a character of any interest. Add in all the CG characters you didn’t care about in the first movie that only allow people like Stephen Fry, Timothy Spall or Alan Rickman (in his final role that gives him about three lines) the chance to earn an incredibly easy paycheck. The CG in the first film had some credibility with blending actors and their fabricated environments, but here the technology has somehow gotten worse. Any time Alice is floating in the watery ocean representation of time, Wasikowska looks about stone face while pulling levers without any understanding of what’s happening. It’d be one thing if this didn’t follow any sort of plot structure, but the loose structure of this and its predecessor are just enough to make the nonsensical Lewis Carroll stories feel painfully uneventful and familiar to any forgettable recent blockbuster.
Alice Through the Looking Glass isn’t a necessary or even warranted sequel. It’s an exercise in seeing how much CG Disney can dump into a film without any form, like a testing ground for what won’t work for their upcoming sequel to the live action The Jungle Book. It’s an excuse to have Tim Burton’s former frequent co-stars Depp and Bonham Carter (who haven’t worked with Burton since his 2012 flop Dark Shadows) mug in front of green screen. It’s a desperate cry from Disney to wring another $1 billion off the hope that people want more of something from six years ago. That all being said, James Bobin took the big paycheck and constraints of the first film’s screenwriter Linda Wolverton‘s continual bland void as a challenge to at least create a few fun visuals or silly antics with Cohen, the latter two of which make it a less grating exercise than Burton’s film. He at least deserves a pat on the back for that… a pat that will likely be enhanced by ludicrous CG to make it proportionally much larger than it needs to be.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 Broken Stop Watches
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