Alice returns to the Underland in this follow up to 2010’s huge hit. Is it worth joining her?
Back in 2010, Tim Burton brought Lewis Carroll’s most famous characters to the big screen with Alice In Wonderland. Although not a straight adaptation of the story (borrowing the Jabberwock and building a story from there), audiences around the world flocked to see it, and it became the fifth highest grossing film of all time. A billion dollars at the box office made another adventure a financial no-brainer, but is this more than a studio-mandated, business decision?
James Bobin (The Muppets, Flight Of The Conchords) has taken over the director’s chair from Tim Burton (who is still involved as producer) and all of the major players are back: Mia Wasikowsa’s Alice (a lot more confident here, both in terms of character and performance), Helena Bonham Carter’s scene stealing Red Queen, Anne Hathaway’s whiter-than-white White Queen, and of course Johnny Depp’s (let’s be honest, pretty annoying) Mad Hatter. We also have the myriad of voices returning – Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Barbara Windsor, Matt Lucas, and in his last role the brilliant Alan Rickman – to voice their characters.
We start this film with Alice captaining her father;s ship, and performing an impossible maneuver to escape some Malay pirate ships. She returns from this long sea voyage to find that the man whose marriage proposal she spurned in the first film has succeeded his father as Lord Ascot, and therefore owns the company that she works for. In her absence, her mother has fallen on hard times and has had to put their house as collateral against her father’s ship, and so Alice must face the choice of sacrificing the life she has made to secure her family’s finances. However, a familiar sounding butterfly (Rickman) lures her through the looking glass, and she returns to the Underland. Here, things are not as happy as she left them, as The Mad Hatter has fallen into a darkness bordering on despair, and Alice must steal a device from Time (Sasha Baron Cohen with a suitably sinister, yet neutral, German accent) himself to travel to the past to save The Hatter’s family.
One of the things that Tim Burton did successfully with the first film was find a story that gave him a framework to allow us to meet all of these famous in a coherent fashion. Whether you like the story or not (and it’s not really Alice In Wonderland), he found a structure which (more or less) worked. But, there are two quotes from Burton that I want to bring to your attention. Firstly, that he made his story decisions “to try and make Alice feel more like a story as opposed to a series of events”, and also that, in previous versions of the story, “it was always a girl wandering around from one crazy character to another, and I never really felt any real emotional connection.”
As a director, Tim Burton managed to pull this off with Alice In Wonderland. It’s not a particularly great film (that billion dollar box office take, although mightily impressive, was inflated by an excellent marketing campaign, cinemas investing in 3D technology for Avatar and Alice being the next 3D film to come along,and a surprising lack of alternatives for a family audience), but the story just about sees you through to the end. Unfortunately, James Bobin can’t pull off the same trick. Alice Through The Looking Glass is a mess. Alice goes back in time to save the Hatter’s family, and literally wanders from one crazy character to another. It really is “a series of events”, as Alice keeps travelling back in time to different moments that have shaped the characters that we know. Unfortunately, these younger versions aren’t particularly interesting (Matt Lucas’ Tweedledum and Tweedledee the notable exceptions) and there is one clunky scene involving the two young princesses that seemed quite badly acted and shot. The film gets too disjointed as it skips back in time, meaning Rhys Ifans and Richard Armitage don’t get enough time on screen. In fact, a lot of the characters are sidelined for a big chunk of the film. Although the film is built around his family, The Hatter is mostly sidelined by his illness, so Johnny Depp adds very little to the film.The audience has to remember how much Alice and the Hatter care about each other from the first film, as there is little reason for their heightened reactions here.
Mia Wasikowsa does well with what she is given in the lead role, and I found Anne Hathaway’s fairy tale perfect Queen act amusing. There is also a small role for Andrew Scott which is probably the highlight of the whole film. Helena Bonham Carter is, of course, a national treasure and is a lot of fun to watch, and Sasha Baron Cohen’s Werner Herzog impression is very impressive, but I very much doubt that this will be another huge hit.
I really wanted to enjoy this, but a few moments aside, I didn’t.
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
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