In 2010, Alice in Wonderland did a fine job defining Tim Burton’s recent directorial career: Dour, absurdly plasticized, and green-screen-addicted. Inspired by the beloved Lewis Carroll novel, the feeble film highlighted Burton’s laziness behind the camera and revealed the shelf life for his quirk.
But it made a billion dollars, so any follow-up wasn’t going to take the apology route. Burton has been replaced by James Bobin, but Alice Through the Looking Glass isn’t all that different. Perhaps it’s a bit brighter, less violent, and more contained, but remains in serious need of a practical set and some Prozac.
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures
Alice Through the Looking Glass is in serious need of a practical set and some Prozac.
After three years touring the world as a sea captain, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has returned to London to discover that ex-fiancée Hamish (Leo Bill) is in control of her family’s property, ordering her to take a clerking job. Confused and angry, she finds escape through a magic mirror, returning to Underland, only to learn that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is near death, unable to process the discovery that his estranged family, previously thought to have been killed by the Jabberwocky, is alive.
Tasked by the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) to save Underland, Alice visits Time (Sacha Baron Cohen, doing a Werner Herzog impression), a half-mechanical king of clockwork, requesting permission to use the chronosphere, a device used to travel through time. With her offer refused, Alice steals the device, trying to prevent the death of the Hatter’s family, only to discover a newfound understanding of the petulant Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), who teams up with Time to imprison the human invader before she has a chance to restore order.
It’s difficult to put all the blame for the picture’s lethargy on Bobin, who’s clearly been ordered to revive the Burton aesthetic. The director of The Muppets and the cruelly unappreciated Muppets Most Wanted, Bobin knows his way around lighthearted fun, and one can sense the helmer trying to infuse Alice Through the Looking Glass with a livelier spirit, ordering lavish costumes and more pronounced make-up design.
Alice Through the Looking Glass has the right idea for at least the first act, showcasing livelier work from Wasikowska and establishing the beginnings of a journey that promises to take her on a Back to the Future-style romp, visiting the early years of Mad Hatter to prevent future disaster and coming across initial antagonisms between the Red and White Queens.
Unfortunately, Alice Through the Looking Glass succumbs to digital suffocation, with CGI pouring in once Underland is revisited. Bobin doesn’t question this, cooking up various threatening environments, including Time’s castle, populated by steam punk-inspired minions known as Seconds (who join together to become Minutes and eventually Hours).
Craftsmanship is satisfactory (the Red Queen’s inflated head remains unnerving), but the sheer amount of artifice has a way of making everything look small and claustrophobic, with entire sections comprised completely of visual effects. It’s exhausting to watch, especially when the screenplay by Linda Woolverton doesn’t rock the boat in terms of plot.
As half-baked as it is, Alice Through the Looking Glass offers a digestible female empowerment message, trying to sustain the first feature’s theme of independence without exploring just what Alice is looking to do with her emancipation.
Depp seems engaged as the Mad Hatter, provided a little more range to mess around with as the ornately painted character succumbs to depression.
Alice Through the Looking Glass technically bests the original picture in atmosphere, story, and performances, but it suffers from the same sensory overload, mistaking blinding colors and artificial backgrounds for whimsy. Tim Burton isn’t missed because it’s like he never left in the first place.