by Steve Pulaski

One’s eyes may widen or their eyebrows may turn downwards when they realize that Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland grossed over $1 billion worldwide and, to date, is one of the highest grossing films of all time. Despite coming out in 2010, it was a different time for films, especially ones that boasted enormous budgets and candy-colored special effects, for they were something completely out of the ordinary, if you can believe it. It was also released when 3D was still captivating the marketplace, and couple it with the fact that fantasy retellings with bigger names and more promising effects were something to look forward to, you have Alice in Wonderland, one of the most commercially successful films, whether you like it or not.

That was six years ago, and I remember softly admiring Alice in Wonderland when it was first released. I’ve been more positive towards Burton than most, but I often feel that sometimes his narrative meandering results in a film that’s more compelling and interesting than we initially perceive (his adaptation of Dark Shadows wasn’t bad and even the criminally underrated Big Eyes wasn’t the most structured film by any means). It was a film that was at least a pleasant visual feast and an adequately told story that captivated because it was focused on the characters’ quirks.

Why Alice Through the Looking Glass took so long to follow up its predecessor, I cannot say. It’s not like anyone was pleading for an Alice in Wonderland film ten years ago, though they paid for it like they were, and it’s not like anyone was asking when Alice Through the Looking Glass was going to get made, but whatever momentum the original installment had has dissipated greatly in 2016. Because of this, Alice Through the Looking Glass inevitably feels not only dated and tardy, but also obligatory, in that of course, the $1 billion hit had to have its sequel just so the series can conclude or at least make an effort to continue.

Alice Through the Looking Glass
Directed by
James Bobin
Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter
Release Date
27 May 2016
Steve’s Grade: D-+

Aside from an opportunity to compare the drastic box office difference and what happens when two films of similar budgets and similar approaches are released in two very different times, Alice Through the Looking Glass is nothing more than unengaging and belated slog through a world we’ve explored one time too many now.

The film picks up on the saga of Alice (reprised by Mia Wasikowska), who, for the past three years, has been on swashbuckling adventures, echoing the duties of her father. When she returns to London, she finds her father’s company has been taken over by Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill), her ex-fiancee. After fighting with her mother when she realizes that Hamish wants her father’s old ship in exchange for her family home, Alice is revisited by Absolem (voiced by Alan Rickman in his final movie role), a familiar butterfly who guides her back to Wonderland in order to save The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) from his own stubborn ways.

She rekindles with old friends such as the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), the Tweedles, the White Rabbit, the Dormouse, and the Cheshire Cat as she sees that the Hatter, while initially happy to see Alice, is still convinced his parents survived the Attack of the Jabberwocky. As a result, Alice tries to visit Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) in effort to set back the clocks to try and either save the Mad Hatter’s parents or alter the course of time so that the Hatter can move on from his own personal torment.

The original Alice in Wonderland, while carrying some cynical weight here and there, was a uniformly positive film, with a lot of color and a lot of good energy. Alice Through the Looking Glass, however, sacrifices a lot of that good humor in return for what boils down to pretty lukewarm fantasy, the same kind of overblown spectacle that handicapped last year’s Pan from realizing its full potential in the wake of a nine-figure budget. The film ultimately doesn’t engage the viewer or make any attempt to remind us what exactly got us out to the theater to see these characters once again nor why we should still even be burdened to care about them.

Despite disaster after disaster, both in quality and in financial returns, Johnny Depp feels as thin and bored as he’s ever been in his decorated (literally) career, and Mia Wasikowska just seems to appear at times as if she’s wondering how she still hasn’t gotten better work yet. The only one with any real life and zest to him is Cohen, even though he’s essentially building off the quirks that he’s already established in most of his other projects, as he plays a half-mechanical humanoid.

The entire project has the visuals, costume design, and makeup that pack in a lot of imagination, but what’s missing is the actual imagination – the characters behind the madness and the emotion that makes them transcend from movable decorations inside a highly stylized film. Perhaps if Tim Burton were behind the camera again rather than James Bobin, who directed the last two Muppet films, maybe a more favorable film would’ve resulted. But perhaps if we get a fairly good adaptation of Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator to serve as the sequel to Burton’s wonderfulCharlie and the Chocolate Factory, this measly little sin could be forgiven.