Alice Through The Looking Glass

Director: James Bobin (2016)

It’s six long years since the staggeringly successful but forgettable Alice In Wonderland (2010) from director Tim Burton.

And time drags in this muddled sequel which has even less connection to the fantastical novels of Lewis Carroll.

There’s no lyrical sense of wonder just hack handed sentiment, blunt slapstick and plodding special effects.

It jettisons familiar characters into two distinct and parallel plots of its own invention, respectively involving time travel and female empowerment. The resolution of family conflict joins the two strands loosely together.

Never forget Hollywood’s golden rule of scriptwriting; a film is always about family, regardless of how appropriate it is to the material.

Burton butchered Carroll’s whimsical masterpiece, replacing its playful intelligence, charm and wit with flamboyant gothic design and an excruciating mannered performance by Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter.

Against the odds, Burton’s replacement James Bobin has made an even more unwieldy and incoherent film.

Previously Bobin directed The Muppets (2011) and Muppets Most Wanted (2014). He began in TV with The 11 O’Clock Show (1998) where he collaborated with Sacha Baron Cohen. The comic actor features heavily if sadly not hilariously in Looking Glass.

Despite Alice being reinvented as an action heroine, the pale Mia Wasikowska gives a pallid performance as Alice. Perhaps she’s miffed she’s billed a humble third after Depp and Anne Hathaway.

Alice steps through a mirror and falls into Wonderland, immediately signalling to us nothing in this world can hurt her. Which destroys any potential sense of danger in one dull thud.

She is told her friend the Mad Hatter has gone more mad but in a bad way, and is dying.

In white face paint, orange wig and tweeds, Depp’s Hatter resembles Ronald McDonald’s eccentric great uncle after confinement to a suitable attic.

To cure him Alice must do the impossible task of stealing a device called the chronosphere and go back in time to rescue his long lost family.

Removing the time travelling machine risks destroying Wonderland and everyone in it. But this threat is quickly forgotten about as the film is more interested in whizzing Alice about. There’s a surprise incursion to an insane asylum.

Alice is chased by Time who wants his contraption back. The film can’t decide if the black clad and German accented Sacha Baron Cohen is the baddie.

Also vying to be the baddie but failing in villainy are Helena Bonham Carter and Hathaway. They make a squabbling return as respectively the large headed and rude Red Queen and the elegant and duplicitous White Queen.

The presence of Bonham Carter, his now ex-wife, may explain Burton’s exclusion from the director’s chair.

The sepulchral tones of the late Alan Rickman offers a fleeting moment of gravity. While in her brief appearances as Alice’s mother, theatrical Scots stalwart Lindsay Duncan makes more of an impression than Wasikowska achieves.

Lending their voices to the advertising poster in some un-necessarily expensive casting choices are Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, John Sessions, Barbara Windsor, Paul Whitehouse and Toby Jones.

Usually my heart despairs whenever Matt Lucas appears so it says a great deal about the film I found his presence curiously bearable.

Alice won Oscars for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design, as well as being nominated for Best Visual Effects.

No doubt Looking Glass will follow the first film in being in the running for similar awards. It’s rich and detailed production design gives us plenty to look at while everyone busily runs around.

The chronosphere is a golden mechanical marvel Alice sits in to blast back in time, a design nod to George Pal’s teen culture embracing adaption of HG Well’s The Time Machine (1960).

Alice visits vast gothic halls and traverses a tumultuous ocean of time. The world is populated by  mechanical assistants, vegetable guardsmen, giant chess pieces, a fire breathing Jabberwocky, walking frogs, talking dogs and of course the disappearing Cheshire Cat.

Bookending the film is a framing device featuring Alice’s adventures at sea pursued by pirates. Because the world needs another big budget CGI fest involving Johnny Depp and pirates.

The story stresses the importance of not wasting ones time. Which is strange as I wasted two hours of my life watching this joyless merry go round of a movie.

Mind you, it felt much longer.







Director: Kenneth Branagh (2015)

There are no surprises in this sweet, stately and straight-forward fairytale which Disney intends to be universally accepted the definitive version.

A non-revisionist extension of the Disney brand, it begins with once upon a time and ends happily ever after.

Unlike Disney’s earlier folklore forage this year Into The Woods or last year’s Maleficent which added a different perspective to European fairytales, Cinderella adds nothing new. Renaming Prince Charming as Kit is as far as reinvention goes.

Instead it’s determinedly old-fashioned, resolutely traditional telling of the tale; majestic, confident, warm and enchanting. At it’s centre is a message of how important it is to have courage and be kind.

With the magical assistance of her fairy godmother, the put-upon Cinderella is saved from an unjust life of drudgery by her handsome Prince Charming.

From cast to costumes to carriages, it is astonishingly beautiful, taking sumptuous pleasure in the smallest detail and director Brannagh keeps the pace steady enough to enjoy them.

Following the death of her wealthy father, Cinderella (Lily James) is left at the mercy of her icy stepmother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and spoilt step-sisters Anastasia and Drizella (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera).

Tremaine is a black-hearted widow who is deeply disappointed with life, as wasp-tongued as Cinders is wasp-waisted,

Our heroine is forced to sleep in attic and performs all the household chores. Her only friends are four animated cute and charming mice.

While out riding she meets the dashing Prince Kit (Richard Madden) and both pretend to be other than they are. Both are smitten but called away to their duties.

The dying King (Derek Jacobi) orders Kit to find a wife to provide an heir and protect the future of the Kingdom. So Kit holds a fabulous ball and demands attendance of all the maidens in the land, noble or common.

Barred from attending by her step-mother, Cinder’s fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) appears.

She turns a pumpkin into a carriage, mice into horses and lizards into footmen. Cinders dons a pair of glass slippers and is off to the ball – but of course only until midnight when the magic will wear off.

Meeting each other on the dance floor, Kit and Cinderella are a handsome pair, not wildly exciting but pleasant with graceful dance moves – expect copycat routines on the next series of Strictly Come Dancing.

Cinderella’s race to return home is the most fun part of the film. It’s an exciting, energetic and humorous race against time.

Bonham Carter has fun as the fairy godmother and Jacobi adds acting gravitas as the King.

Rob Brydon appears briefly and manages to be funny and outstay his welcome, neatly encapsulating his entire career in a cameo.

Production Designer Dante Ferretti provides an astonishing wealth of detail amid glorious sets, extravagant furnishings giving texture to the fairytale world.

Costume Designer Sandy Powell dresses the cast in fabulous clothes and uniforms. Their heightened colours offer a promise of magic.

With many gasps, groans, giggles and growls padding out the vocal performances, the dialogue is far less imaginative than the design. It’s regularly abandoned in favour of the music of composer Patrick Boyle.

While his orchestral score swells and falls like Cinderella’s corseted bosom, Branagh delivers a series of sweeping camera moves that reveal yet more opulent design.

Dubbing for international markets seem to at the forefront of the film’s construction which opens and begins with a voice over.

The actors finish their lines with open mouths and the editing and direction provide an unusual amount of speaking off-camera. It’s a wonder they didn’t go full Leone and put cigars in everyones mouths to disguise the lip movement.

Disney of course have their own 1950 animated version which the script acknowledges with a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo as the Fairy Godmother casts her spells.

But this is not just a movie, it’s an irresistible cavalry charge of cultural colonisation. The House of Mouse have mobilised their creative heavy armaments to annex the world of Cinderella and indisputably incorporate it as part of the Disney Empire. Having claimed forever the rich, fertile and lucrative source material, they’ll sweat the asset in due course.

It’s no surprise Cinderella’s mice play a pivotal role in the finale.

Preceded by a short featuring the characters from Frozen which is either utterly amazing or annoyingly entertaining depending on your view of that massively successful film.

The end of Cinderella shows the newly wed royal couple being presented on a snowy balcony to an adoring public with snow-clad mountains in the background.

Unless I’ve missed a memo and this is old news, it seems as if Disney are tying the two films together in a continuous universe, not unlike Disney’s rmega-franchises; Marvel and Star Wars, with Kit and Cinderella the parents of Elsa and Anna.

This lends Frozen some of Cinderella’s folklore resonance and makes the more staid Cinderella more palatable to the little ones.

As strong and monumental as this film is, even in playful homage it’s always dangerous to reference your cinematic betters – as Cinderella does with a throwaway ‘As you wish.’