ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (Disney)
Dir. James Bobin, Script. Linda Woolverton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen
Plot: Alice (Wasikowska) is thrown back into Wonderland in order to save the Mad Hatter (Depp).
Six years is a long time for any sequel to come around – in the case of making one for Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton’s mega-successful retelling of the classic children’s story that is forever destined to be the Pointless answer to the question ‘Movies that have made $1bn+’ (Did you know that? I would say I didn’t either but you know, I’d be lying), it is almost mystifying as to why Disney took that long. The Lego Movie barely made half of that and Warner Bros. have decided it merits a fast-tracked dynasty of movies to milk its success – so why did Disney take six years to capitalise on one of their biggest hits?
I’ll admit that Through The Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll’s novel so surreal it probably inspired the entire Surrealist art movement, is a difficult book to adapt for a middle-of-the-road, family audience, but in six years you still don’t feel like Disney quite got their head around it. Alice Through The Looking Glass is not a bad film, but it’s a messy one that can alienate its audience just as much as the lush colours of Wonderland can draw them in. The film takes a long time, far too long in fact, to find its footing on the difficult source material, and even though by the end this movie manages to stand pretty well, I’m not sure if it quite won me over.
I’ll start with the screenplay, coming to you from Linda Woolverton (returning from the first movie). While it incorporates the mad, self-created vocabulary of Carroll’s story pretty seamlessly, our brief moments in Victorian reality are, for lack of a better word, shit. The film opens with something plastered from Pirates of the Carribean, and we are informed (but not shown, in what annoyingly would have been a much more interesting story than the one we actually got) that Alice has become a captain of the seas, and has travelled the world. Once she returns home, she is confronted by a torrent of a different kind: wooden dialogue. And not just simple wood – the varnished, beautifully appointed mahogany of Victorian costume drama dialogue. It is staggering in its exaggeration. The worst of it comes directly from the mouth of Hamish, the character whose marriage proposals were rejected by Alice in the first movie, who tries to bring Alice down with a hilariously antagonistic face and about 7.4 billion mirthful chuckles (one for each person living that this should annoy) that our new Han Solo Alden Ehrenreich really could have used.
The plot’s a little scatterbrained too, mainly revolving around a time-travel device Alice steals from Borat of Gallifrey (or Sacha Baron Cohen as Time, with a performance that, weirdly for Baron Cohen, can be best described as forgettable). For a good hour of the film, a bunch of stuff does happen but none of it feels propulsive. Sure, going back to the film’s past does help with filling in some character backstory, but the actual story doesn’t move forward much for more than half of the film, and in that time my investment for any of the characters was flat as a pancake. Once the film does decide to get moving (and that’s only after an inexplicable intermission which makes absolutely no narrative sense other than creating a situation whereby Moriarty can say the sentence ‘Women’s Hysteria’ in a serious context (and another thing – I know I’m meant to be reviewing this completely objectively but after X-Men Apocalypse last week did the same sort of thing that scene touched a bit of a nerve), it enters a full sprint for the line, as if realizing that they’d started five seconds late in a 100m dash.
Onto the direction, and with Tim Burton away doing Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, Disney have handed the reins to James Bobin, after being assumptively impressed with his directorial capabilities on his most recent film, Muppets Most Wanted. Bobin actually does a pretty decent job on this, despite this being a major step up and Burton’s massive shoes to fill. He keeps the tone light with just a smattering of seriousness, and he maintains focus on the emotional elements of the story, thereby cutting through the potentially challenging material of Carroll’s story. However, Bobin does step into the shadows maybe too much here, and the spectre of Burton hangs as he struggles to put his own authorial stamp on the film. And another issue with the direction is that, with the exception of Alice (Mia Wasikowska – solid but not spectacular), nobody else feels like they get enough time on screen, as the film’s narrative continues to dart between different times and locations.
The acting overall feels a little unsatisfactory. While Johnny Depp has smatterings of how good of an actor he can be, he doesn’t feel like he’s doing his best work here; Anne Hathaway plays the White Queen extremely ditzy and, more importantly, poorly; and Helena Bonham Carter is practically playing a parody version of herself, maniacally screaming her way through a highly predictable character arc. Pretty much everyone else doesn’t really get enough time to register. On technical aspects, the production design is pretty gorgeous, just as lusciously coloured and unabashedly gothic as the original – you can tell exactly where those Disney millions (a reported 170 of them) have gone, although at times the green screen can be a bit noticeable. The cinematography is dream-like in look and brings out the best of the film’s production values.
Thinking it all over, it’s a tricky one to actually sum up. Alice Through The Looking Glass is in no way a disaster – its actually got some really decent moments towards the ending, with a lot of that refined, Disney-trademarked emotional sweetness on show. But a lot of it just washes over; the whole movie, to my mind, doesn’t really have any substance to it. The story just feels light and without stakes, and I found it very difficult to really get invested in the narrative because of that. Although the emotional moments of Wasikowska and Depp especially are done really very well, it’s only when the narrative ends that the distractions end, and the narrative elements that actually make these scenes work are, unfortunately, the ones that seem the most tagged on and convenient. Alice Through The Looking Glass is a decent attempt at a sequel from Disney, but after having a whole six years to think about it, I can’t help but feel that there could have been a bit more on offer.
BEST WATCHED: Probably not cinema-trip worthy, but probably rent-worthy.
Depp stays on the Disney train and returns as swashbuckling Keith Richards impersonator Captain Jack Sparrow in the fifth Pirates of the Carribean film, Dead Men Tell No Tales, while Anne Hathaway can next be seen later this year in original action sci-fi Colossal, with Jason Sudeikis and Downton Abbey alumni and future Beast Dan Stevens. The rest of the major players don’t have anything major on the horizon just yet – director James Bobin does however, after being signed up for MIB 23, the crossover between the Jump Street and Men In Black series’ that we were all asking for…?