There could be many reasons to eschew the story that Lewis Carroll himself wrote about Alice and her adventures through the looking glass. Alas, Disney’s ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS does not find any of them. There is a perfect madness in that book that the script by Linda Woolverton fails to capture. Instead we are presented with a razzle-dazzle explosion of colors and special effects in service of a tired trifle of a tale.
Life has gone on for Alice (Mia Wasikowska) since the Tim Burton film. Because she is no ordinary young woman, she is, of course, not following an ordinary career. No, Alice is the captain of the good ship Wonder, outwitting Malay pirates before returning home to find that her spurned suitor, Hamish (Leo Bill) has outwitted her financially. Before has the chance to sort that out, though, she is summoned back to Wonderland to sort out The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), whose dark funk of a mood has alarmed his friends.
From there we learn that Time is a he (Sacha Baron Cohen), and that he has a fetish for women with oversized heads. That would be (Helena Bonham Carter) as the gleefully condensed evil that is the Red Queen, and the brightest spot in this otherwise dreary undertaking. We also learn that there are distinct overtones of Wicked, book and musical, at work here in Wonderland, and that Depp does a less than satisfying caricature of himself during those moments when
he is able to rouse himself from a distinct appearance of ennui. Wasikowska, as the late 19th-century New Woman is effortlessly formidable. Few could pronounce an intention to save the universe with such believable conviction and not a trace of irony. She also acquits herself admirably in the one instance of the sort of wordplay in which Carroll delighted as Alice attempts the proper use of proper and pronouns during a conversation about time with Time himself.
The rest is a febrile effort, best exemplified by Anne Hathaway’s fluttering White Queen wherein she wafts her hands about in an attempt to emulate the idea of the aetherial without actually accomplishing it. Sure, the chronosphere that is the McGuffin of the piece, is suitably eye-popping as it gyroscopes through the literal oceans of time as Alice travels back to save the Hatter’s family and restore him to his burbling self, but it only throws into bolder relief the lack of imagination of the story itself. I found myself longing for one of H.G. Wells’ Morlocks to pop in just to shake things up. Daddy issues, sister issues, and a painfully predictable moral about what happens when you muck about with the time/space continuum. Ho-hum.
ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS is all frosting and no cake. Instead there’s only a cardboard cutout of a core. Truly enchanting to look at, and deeply unsatisfying as the sumptuous treat it was intended to be.