Back in 2010, everyone and their mom was waiting for the release of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. It was the movie that every Hot Topic kid had fantasized about since their first purchase of a Nightmare Before Christmas wristband, and with every new image and trailer, the anticipation grew and grew. But some 6 years later, many viewers of the original still debate about whether Burton’s take on the famous tales of Lewis Carroll was actually good or not. But what cannot be denied is it made a bucketload of money, and as a result, we now have a sequel: Alice Through The Looking Glass, now directed by James Bobin and starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Sacha Baron Cohen, along with many other familiar residents of Burton’s Wonderland.
After she returns home from her adventures on the high seas, Alice (Wasikowska) – who is now a high-ranking sea captain – is thrown into another struggle that involves her versus “the world”. This time around her ex-fiancé is trying to take over her father’s business/ship in exchange for her home, which results in yet more “girl power problems” in Alice’s life. This complication somehow leads her to go “through the looking glass” back into Underland, where she discovers something even more alarming – her dear friend, The Hatter (Depp), is sad. Why? He is convinced that his family (who was supposedly dead) could actually be alive – yet no one seems to believe him. This sends Alice on a wild goose chase that involves her messing with Time himself (Cohen), learning the backstory of her friends and foes, all the while dealing with her “real world” issues.
The best way to describe the major problem of Alice Through The Looking Glass is to imagine its screenplay (by Linda Woolverton) as Oprah. In this situation, Oprah wants to give everyone in the plot some development. “You’re gonna get development! You’re gonna get development! You are all gonna get development!” she says, as she points to almost every single humanoid character. However, by the end, even with all the backstories and details that are thrown at the audience with rapid speed, every moment feels it is stretching the source material to the thinnest point. These aren’t Lewis Carroll’s characters anymore (and have no real relation to the source material of the same name), but are instead cut outs of overdone models from a Wonderland-themed photo shoot.
Unfortunately, much of this comes from Bobin, who seems to fall into his own directing rabbit hole at times, filling any sort of moment for which the movie can breathe with as many dazzling, yet bland, CGI spectacles as he can muster (particularly in the film’s messy climax.) If Walt Disney Imagineering was looking for a new person to head up some 4-D motion simulator project, Bobin would be the man. Yet when it comes to a fully immersive fantasy film, this director has a bit more homework to do in the control department.
Yet the most interesting decisions don’t come from Bobin, but from Mr. Depp. Here Johnny continues his tradition of bringing about “wacky” characters to life – the kind that remind you more of the annoying voices Uncle Joey used to make on Full House than the inspiring roles he was known for in his 90’s prime. Here we have a Hatter whose character arc is as confusing as his ever-changing manner of speaking – who is shown to have been a pretty well-mannered kid, but then somehow turns into the Urban Decay wearing makeup explosion from your high school production of Godspell. Depp’s performance could have saved this character from the garbage pile, but instead, adds more bruises than his awkward dance sequence from the first movie left on the iconic hat-maker.
The rest of the movie’s cast tries their best to make themselves interesting, with some working better than others. Helena Bonham Carter continues to eat the scenery more than her Red Queen eats tarts in the film while Anne Hathaway brings her White Queen to new levels of ridiculous. Even a drag queen would be offended. Thankfully, we have Mia Wasikowska and Sacha Baron Cohen, who seem to be the only two cast members that can bring any sort of believability to their paper doll-like characters. They’re having fun, and should be given a pat on the back and a ticket to Disneyland from the Mouse himself for their efforts.
A similar pat should be given to the true hero of this movie, costume designer Collen Atwood. If it weren’t for the incredibly stunning work that this 3-time Oscar winner brings to this franchise (along with the 3D ticket sales), this incarnation of Alice wouldn’t be as remotely popular as it has become. Every executive at Disney should kiss the feet of this woman three times over, for much like 2016’s other heavy fantasy sequel The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Collen’s work is the true visual saving grace of the project. However, with a movie that cost $170 million to make, costumes should not be the only selling point.
With a few light chuckles, colorful visuals, and a less sarcastic approach, Alice Through The Looking Glass is better in many categories compared to its predecessor. But that’s like saying that slice of 3-day-old pizza tastes better than the 3-week old microwavable one you have in the freezer. Neither is really that fresh nor are they ultimately delicious. And though the message of the film is to never believe that things are impossible, maybe the takeaway from this is that fixing Burton’s failed attempt at Wonderland is more of an impossible task than anyone could have imagined.