DIR: James Bobin • WRI: Linda Woolverton • PRO: Tim Burton, Joe Roth, Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd • ED: Andrew Weisblum • DES: Dan Hennah • MUS: Danny Elfman • CAST: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Stephen Fry, Leo Bill, Lindsey Duncan
In line with the current trend in Hollywood of producing unnecessary sequels to bad films – here’s looking at you The Huntsman: Winter’s War – James Bobin’s follow-up to Tim Burton’s 2010’s Alice in Wonderland does little to improve on its predecessor. Visually stunning, but narratively inept, this newest interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s works fails to utilise the elements that made its source material so enduringly charming.
We find Alice (Wasikowska) in the opening of the film as a successful sea captain, returning to London after a three-year adventure. However, our heroine is distraught to discover that, despite her proven ability at commanding a crew, her sleazy once-admirer and now-owner of the shipping company, Hamish (Bill), wants to peg her in a clerical role. As unsure of her future as the film is about this subplot, Alice finds herself being led back to the whimsical world of Underland through (you guessed it) a magical mirror. Here she discovers that her old friend the Mad Hatter (Depp) has stooped into a melancholy state over the mysterious disappearance of his family years before.
In order to save his life (being sad drains the Hatter of his life force, or something – it’s never actually explained), Alice must convince Time himself (Baron Cohen) to lend her a powerful object known as the Chronosphere so that she may travel back in time to discover what truly happened to the Hightopp family. Problem is, the ever-vengeful Red Queen (Bonham-Carter) also desires to do a little time-meddling herself, only for not-so-noble a reason.
The time-travelling narrative functions as a lazy tool to provide more backstory for Underland’s various characters in place of an actual plot. And yet, what is revealed to us about these characters is so surprisingly bland and cliché that the entire film feels like a gargantuan waste of effort. The Mad Hatter’s story arc is ripped entirely from 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and reduces the character to little more than a man-child yearning for his disapproving father’s attention. While answers are given to other lingering questions left over from the previous film, such as the reason behind the Red Queen’s oversized head, they too are unsatisfactorily over-simplistic.
In terms of performances, there is a distinct stiltedness in the actors’ delivery of lines, most noticeably Anne Hathaway’s unbearably ‘froo-lala’ White Queen, though Wasikowska fairs little better. Helena Bonham-Carter remains as ever a scene-stealer as the Red Queen and Sacha Baron Cohen is delightfully foppish, though at time inconsistent, as the German-accented Time.
One aspect of the film that works, other than its impressively fluid special effects, is the underlying theme of the inevitability of time. This is a rather mature concept and one that would be interesting to convey to an audience consisting mostly of children. Unfortunately, it is never played out to the extent that it could have been, leaving the film lacking an emotionally meaningful core.
No doubt the film will serve nicely as a passing amusement for the kids on a wet weekend, but overall it is a disappointing step-down for Disney’s live action output and will leave fans of the original books still yearning for a decent contemporary adaptation.
PG (See IFCO for details)
Alice Through the Looking Glass is released 28th May 2016