It’s no wonder Disney’s returning to Underland with Alice Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to 2010’s Alice in Wonderland. Considering Tim Burton’s film rang up over $1 billion during its theatrical release, a sequel was inevitable. Burton passed on directing (he’s keeping busy with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) but he remained involved with the 2016 film as a producer, and his influence is evident in the visual aesthetics of the sequel. James Bobin, director of The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted, took over the helm of the sequel which looks similar to Burton’s Alice but is curiously minus the whimsy of its predecessor. It’s also sorely lacking the spirit of a Lewis Carroll story, connecting to Carroll’s classic tales merely by the inclusion of the beloved characters who in this PG production are given very little to actually do.
Alice Through the Looking Glass starts off with Alice (Mia Wasikowska) as a sea captain who quickly proves she’s capable of outmaneuvering pirates. Back on shore, she reports in only to learn she’s been stripped of her captain title and her family’s home is being held hostage. The deal: sign over the ship and her ex-fiance, Hamish (Leo Bill), will allow her mother (Lindsay Duncan) to retain ownership of the Kingsleigh house. Alice is angry and frustrated at this turn of events, but forgets her current problems when she chases Absolem (now a beautiful blue butterfly) through a mirror and back to Underland. Once there, her old animal friends tell her the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is feeling poorly and is no longer his kooky mad self. The Underland gang believe only Alice can free him from his self-imposed exile and return him to his happy manic self.
Alice takes on the challenge of saving the Mad Hatter by sneaking into Time’s mansion and stealing the magical chronograph which will allow her to sail back in time to discover what happened to the Mad Hatter’s family. Alice must journey back to the day when the Jabberwock attacked and the Mad Hatter’s family was believed to have perished. Of course, by stealing the chronograph from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) she puts the entire world in danger, but her singular mission of healing the Mad Hatter is apparently far too important to worry about the possibility she’s causing the world to end with her actions. As she’s traveling into the past, she also uncovers the reason the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) hates her sister, Irana (Anne Hathaway), and the story behind the Red Queen’s gigantic head.
The story is far too serious for an Alice in Wonderland tale, and the actions of Alice are completely out of character. Screenwriter Linda Woolverton (who also wrote Alice in Wonderland) has taken beloved characters and squeezed every ounce of Carroll out of them, transforming them into unlikable and churlish caricatures. Alice may be fierce and loyal, but the film fails to give the audience any legitimate reason to cheer her on. Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter was a crazy fireball of energy in Alice in Wonderland, but the depressed Mad Hatter on the verge of death is a real downer storyline that could even scare younger viewers.
There’s not enough of the familiar, beloved Alice in Wonderland characters nor is there much humor or fun in what ultimately amounts to little more than a pale imitation/cash grab. Lewis Carroll enthusiasts will be hard-pressed to find much to enjoy and be entertained by in Alice Through the Looking Glass. And, audiences who ate up the original film and are hoping for another wonderful fantasy adventure in Underland will instead find themselves going on a two-hour trek into a CG world that’s strangely somber and gloomy.
MPAA Rating: PG for fantasy action/peril and some language
Running Time: 113 minutes
Release Date: May 27, 2016