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Alice Through the Looking Glass Movie Review

Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016) movie poster Alice Through the Looking Glass

Theatrical Release: May 28, 2016 / Running Time: 113 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: James Bobin / Writers: Linda Woolverton (screenplay); Lewis Carroll (books)

Cast: Johnny Depp (Mad Hatter Tarrant Hightopp), Mia Wasikowska (Alice Kingsleigh), Helena Bonham Carter (Iracebeth the Red Queen), Anne Hathaway (Mirana the White Queen), Sacha Baron Cohen (Time), Rhys Ifans (Zanik Hightopp), Matt Lucas (Tweedledee, Tweedledum), Lindsay Duncan (Helen Kingsleigh), Leo Bill (Lord Hamish Ascot), Geraldine James (Lady Ascot), Andrew Scott (Dr. Addison Bennett), Richard Armitage (King Oleron), Ed Speleers (James Harcourt) / Voice Cast: Alan Rickman (Absolem the Blue Butterfly), Timothy Spall (Bayard the Bloodhound), Paul Whitehouse (Thackery Earwicket the March Hare), Stephen Fry (Chessur the Cheshire Cat), Barbara Windsor (Mallymkun the Dormouse), Michael Sheen (Nivens McTwisp the White Rabbit), Matt Vogel (Wilkins), Paul Hunter (Chess King), Wally Wingert (Humpty Dumpty)

 

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland grossed over a billion dollars worldwide in 2010, becoming only the sixth film to generate a 10-figure haul. That seems to be reason enough for Disney to make a sequel,
albeit an altogether untimely one in Alice Through the Looking Glass, arriving six years later. Critics didn't care much for Burton's movie. Moviegoers thought it was all right, giving it a mediocre 6.5 on IMDb where Burton movies usually get a bit of a bump. Burton produces this sequel, but directing duties have been passed off to James Bobin, a TV comedy veteran who impressed thoroughly on his feature debut 2011's The Muppets and less so on its just okay 2014 sequel Muppets Most Wanted.

The principal cast is all back, from top-billed supporting player Johnny Depp to period drama fixture Mia Wasikowska as Alice. The title suggests this adapts Lewis Carroll's 1871 follow-up to his original Alice book, but then that was reinterpreted by Burton and company, so anything goes at this point and returning screenwriter Linda Woolverton (Maleficent) again takes copious amounts of creative license.

Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) journeys to the realm of Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) in "Alice Through the Looking Glass."

We open in 1874 with Alice the captain of the sea ship Wonder, which arrives at dock a year after expected. The man whose marriage proposal she turned down has troubling plans to halt her career as a captain. At the event to celebrate his new lordship, Alice sneaks off and enters -- you guessed it -- through the looking glass, or what you might call a mirror. That takes her back to Wonderland Underland and with a little help from caterpillar-turned-butterfly Absolem (voiced by Alan Rickman in his final credit), she reconnects with the gang, including Tweedledee and Tweedledum (both mo-capped Matt Lucas), the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), and the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry). They're all concerned with just how mad the Mad Hatter (extensively CGI-embellished Depp) has become.

The Hatter refuses to believe his family is dead, despite what Alice and the others tell him. The gang decides to take drastic measures to make Hatter's delusions accurate. They have Alice enter the realm of Time (Sacha Baron Cohen), where she is to steal the Chronosphere and journey back in time to prevent Hatter's family from being killed in an act of vengeance by the large-headed Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). A good amount of time is spent in the world of Time, who even has gears grinding in the back of his head. He can't stop Alice from going back in time, but he can take chase after her and crash one of the Hatter's tea parties, where he is subjected to time puns in the film's only laid-back moment. Meanwhile, Alice's journeys through time treat us to various tragicomic episodes from characters' past, including a look at a young, sensitive Hatter with his curly red-haired family (Rhys Ifans plays his father) and a Frozen-esque squabble from the Red and White Queens' shared childhood.

Alice's journeys through time bring her to a younger version of the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) who doesn't yet know her.

Through the Looking Glass has a reported production budget of $170 million, which is significantly less than its predecessor's $200 million, particularly when adjusting for inflation. Nonetheless, it's clear no expense has been spared for this sequel, which is loaded to the brim with visual effects, a class that also embodies its production design and hair and make-up.

Somewhere in here, there's an exciting five-minute theme park ride with fire and water and falls and 3D. Unfortunately, that hypothetical theme park ride isn't as much fun as a two-hour feature film. Sure, there are some impressive visuals. But there's also an obnoxious, digitally aided cast you can muster no sympathy for and a story with far more style than substance. I doubt any film has had a larger ratio of effects to enchantment.

Bobin does nothing to prove incapable of handling a big budget tentpole, but nor does he do anything to bring the wit and humor of his best work to the proceedings. The closest he comes to that are in scenes with Baron Cohen, whom he began directing on "Da Ali G Show" in 2000. The Borat star at least manages to imbue his character with some mystery, intrigue, and irreverence. There is none of that to Depp's cartoonish Hatter, Bonham Carter's hammy Red Queen, or Wasikowska's Alice, who again fades despite efforts to paint her as a courageous heroine. There isn't a single moment to convince us this is more than a huge paycheck for each of these actors. One can only hope that this and the next Pirates sequel bring Depp closer to being able to afford a second private island in the Bahamas.

A few years ago, you might have assumed that this would be a surefire commercial hit, but after Zootopia and The Jungle Book so thoroughly exceeded expectations (each soon to enter the billion dollar worldwide club), Disney could easily withstand this underperforming (which it might), only to rebound in three weeks with Pixar's guaranteed profitable Finding Dory. Was any viewer itching to return to "Underland"? Furthermore, the film curiously opens on the same day as X-Men: Apocalypse, which has booked 400 more theaters and presumably will open in first place even with mixed reviews that are still sure to be better than what Alice draws from critics.

Related Reviews:
Alice in Wonderland (2010) Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Directed by James Bobin: The Muppets Muppets Most Wanted | Produced by Tim Burton: The Nightmare Before Christmas
Written by Linda Woolverton: Maleficent The Lion King Beauty and the Beast
Now in Theaters: The Jungle Book Captain America: Civil War Zootopia The Nice Guys Keanu
Oz the Great and Powerful Frozen Hugo Pan Return to Oz
Mia Wasikowska: Crimson Peak | Johnny Depp: Black Mass Into the Woods Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Dark Shadows
Anne Hathaway: The Princess Diaries & The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement | Helena Bonham Carter: The King's Speech

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Reviewed May 27, 2016.



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