Six years after Tim Burton’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” became a billion dollar box office behemoth, the star-studded cast is back for another round of otherworldly adventures in “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” starring Mia Wasikowska, Johhny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen.
With Burton returning as producer, but handing over directorial reins to James Bobin (“Muppets Most Wanted”), this imaginative and visually sumptuous update of Carroll’s second book in the Alice series has moments of isolated excellence but in the end gets lost in its own fantasy world. More of a follow-up to the first film than a faithful adaptation of the book, the screenplay by Linda Woolverton occasionally shows the kind of wit and wonder that made Carroll’s series so influential to the children’s literature genre, but overall seems more concerned with hitting the next action beat than telling a coherent story. And while the talented returning cast, and a few welcome new members like Sacha Baron Cohen and Rhys Ifans, give all they’ve got to quirk up the proceedings, it’s unlikely parents will derive much pleasure in sitting through this nonsensical odyssey.
When we first check in with Alice Kinsleigh (Mia Wasikowska), it’s the 1870s, and she’s staving off pirates as she captains her ship through the Strait of Malacca. Although her most recent exploits have proven her to be a most capable captain, upon returning to London, Alice suffers from gender discrimination, learning that she will be forced into menial secretarial duties instead of going on further expeditions as she had hoped. After bailing on her reception hosted by Lord Ascot on account of this injustice, Alice encounters her old friend Absolem the Caterpillar (the late Alan Rickman), now a butterfly, who leads her to a looking glass unlike she’s ever seen. What distinguishes this looking glass from others is that it’s a portal to the magical world of Underland, a place which, as we recall from her first adventure, Alice has some familiarity.
After catching up with all the friendly faces of Underland (Michael Sheen’s White Rabbit, Stephen Fry’s Cheshire Cat, Matt Lucas’ Tweedle Dee and Dum, etc.), Alice learns some troubling news: The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) has not been acting like himself as of late, having reached a level of madness heretofore unseen. Following some careful contemplation with Mirana, aka the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), it’s determined that, in order to restore the Mad Hatter to his original degree of madness, Alice must travel back in time to save his family – the apparent source of his affliction. But in order to accomplish this, Alice must obtain the magical Chronosphere, a globe ornament with time-traveling capabilities in the possession of Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) a conveniently named character of human and mechanical makeup.
While Alice travels across different dimensions in hopes of curing the Mad Hatter, Iracebeth (Helena Bonham Carter), aka The Red Queen, partners with Time in an effort to retrieve the Chronosphere, as she has some time travel plans of her own.
Working with cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh, director James Bobin cooks up plenty of eye-popping 3D action that will surely leave the children this film is geared toward mesmerized. Unfortunately, “Through the Looking Glass” too often sacrifices logic for spectacle as the film hopscotches from one fantastical action set piece to the next. Even though Linda Woolverton’s script manages to inject some heart into the proceedings in addition to some life lessons about learning from the past and overcoming adversity, the excess of Jabberwocky gibberish at hand is ultimately too much to overcome.
Leading the cast in the titular role is Mia Wasikowska, who certainly has the kind of accessibility and commanding screen presence to steer this wacky adventure. Returning as an even more twisted version of the Mad Hatter, Johnny Depp once again rises to the occasion, bringing his inner kook out for one more round of eccentric escapades. Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway prove worthy adversaries as the Queens Red and White trying to settle a longstanding feud, and Sacha Baron Cohen and Rhys Ifans give agreeably odd performances as the half-man, half-machine Time and the Mad Hatter’s father.
“Alice Through the Looking Glass” is strictly for the kiddies.
Rated PG for fantasy action/peril and some language.
Running Time: 113 minutes