When Disney and Tim Burton dropped “Alice in Wonderland” on us in 2010, it met expectations, but never did it come anywhere close to exceeding them. What might have been most notable about the movie was it was the first major 3D release in the post-Avatar revolution. The gimmick still had that new car smell and Burton made adequate use of it.
None of that really comes close to answering the question of why, six years later, everyone except Burton has returned to make “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” a sequel that nobody was asking for.
The entire cast, which was particularly above the boards, has returned. Most of the attention in these movies goes to Johnny Depp doing Johnny-Depp-things with heavy makeup and thick accents as the Mad Hatter.
But what has elevated these movies (to just above acceptable for the first one and to just above disastrous for the second one) is Mia Wasikowska, who plays the titular Alice as a strong and capable heroine.
“Alice Through the Looking Glass” begins in the “real” world where Alice as the captain of her father’s merchant ship, harrowingly evades a band of pirates. Frankly, the movie should have stayed right there because I would ride or die with “Alice Kingsleigh: 19th Century Sea Captain.”
Alas, Alice is instead whisked back to Underland (nee Wonderland) for a claptrap adventure. The Hatter is super-bummed because he has come to believe his long-murdered family can somehow be saved.
The solution is for Alice to swipe a time machine from the personification of Time himself (gamely played by Sacha Baron Cohen) and go back to do some rescuing. What has made the stories of Lewis Carroll endure for all these years is the sheer lunacy of Wonderland and its residents, along with the strongest sense of disorientation this side of hallucinogenic drugs. Don’t believe me? Go ask Alice. I think she’ll know.
The point is “Alice Through the Looking Glass” is disappointing mainly because it is so conventional and unoriginal. I mean time travel? Really? What it results in more than anything else is plot holes big enough for an entire legion of white rabbits to fall through.
The rest of the cast does acceptable work with Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway returning as the Red Queen and White Queen, respectively. Also a shout out to Alan Rickman’s last credited performance as the voice of Absolem, the caterpillar-turned-butterfly.
James Bobin does a solid job replacing Burton in the director’s chair, but again, no one is really rising to the occasion.
“Alice Through the Looking Glass” isn’t terrible and, in fairness, does feature an inspired moment or two, but the reality is it doesn’t get much more unnecessary than this. Your time is better spent chasing rabbits of your own.
“Alice Through the Looking Glass” is rated PG for fantasy action/peril and some language.