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.