Whither whimsy? This unasked-for sequel to Tim Burton’s 2010 film rendition of the timeless Lewis Carroll story installs a new director at the helm (James Bobin of the recently revived Muppet movies, though Burton is still on board as a producer). Yet Alice Through the Looking Glass repeats many of the same mistakes as Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Both films favor their stories’ visual possibilities over character development and narrative intrigue. They are works that are sure to pique the interest of the art directors’ and costume designers’ guilds, but fail the basic “curiouser and curiouser” test.
Linda Woolverton, who wrote the screenplays for both this and the 2010 film, spins an original story around the Lewis Carroll characters, along with some newly invented ones in this new film. There are lots of adventures – soaring the high seas and careening, literally, through time – but the whys and wherefores are rather slight and uninvolving. In the film’s prelude we find Alice (Wasikowska) captaining a ship in the Straits of Malacca, cunningly defeating her assailants on the choppy sea. Back home with her widowed mom (Duncan), Alice learns that Hamish (Bill), her suitor from the previous movie, wants to repossess her father’s ship in exchange for allowing her mother to keep their house. But while confronting Hamish during a fancy ball at his home, Alice follows the butterfly Absolem (Rickman) through a looking glass to Wonderland. There the White Queen (Hathaway, seemingly acting only with her arms) and her cohorts tell Alice why she’s been summoned: Her friend, the Mad Hatter (Depp), is seriously depressed. It appears he has unresolved Dad Hatter issues, and he’s one morose son. (Call me old-fashioned, but an ashen and weepy Mad Hatter is far less preferable to a colorful, vibrant, and riddle-spouting creature.) Alice determines to help her friend and gets sucked into a to-and-fro adventure in which she has to seize a time machine from Time himself (Baron Cohen, quite amusing) and learn the reasons for the animosity of the queenly sisters (here called Mirana instead of White Queen, and Iracebeth rather than Red Queen, though played by the same actresses in both Alice films) and the origins of the Red Queen’s fat head.
The film’s special effects are quite something to behold, though Alice’s travels through time go on for too long. The old, familiar characters – the Cheshire Cat, White Rabbit, Tweedle brothers, et al. – serve merely as a Wonderland Greek chorus, but add nothing new to the story. A strong girl-power current also runs through the film, which is always pleasing to find. What the film lacks, however, is magic, jabberwocky, and, yes, whimsy. This return to Wonderland is a dull outing, about which it can be said that Alice doesn’t live here anymore.
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