Title: Alice Through The Looking Glass
Director: James Bobin
Major Players: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter
Out Of Five: 3
I’m learning to manage my expectations. Back in 2010, the thought of Alice In Wonderland as directed by Tim Burton was irresistible. Who better? I splashed out to see it at the IMAX and came away totally deflated. It had so little to do with Lewis Carroll, the story was all over the place and it seemed like Burton was on an ego trip. So I was determined not to get over-excited at the prospect of the sequel, Alice Through The Looking Glass. Once burnt and all that.
That said, we were back on very familiar territory, with much the same cast but in the hands of a different director – James Brobin, who last brought us Muppets Most Wanted. This time, a grown up Alice finds her way back to the world of The Hatter and his friends through a massive mirror and discovers that everybody is worried about her old friend. He’s discovered a memento of his long lost family and it’s plunged him into the deepest gloom. So it’s down to Alice to get him out of it, by finding out what happened to his parents, and that means travelling back in time. Which brings her face to face with Lord Time himself.
That’s a very pared down version of the storyline because it’s a lot more complicated than that. Given its PG certificate, I do wonder if younger members of the audience will be able to follow what’s going on – and given the chatter in the row in front of me at the screening, there were certainly some children who were finding it hard going. Being a big kid myself, I had moments or two when I wondered what on earth was going on. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
Like its predecessor, it has little to do with the original book. There’s a brief moment on a giant chess board and the plot is all about time, instead of a backwards universe, but that’s about it. It’s essentially a huge scale adventure which has Alice and the Wonderland characters, plus a large dollop of CGI, tagged on for added value. And all the cast that matters from the first film are back. Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen, now using her proper name of Iracebeth, still behaves like Queenie from Blackadder II. And she steals some of the best lines, as well as easily the funniest moment in the film.
Depp is a subdued Hatter this time round: we only see his silliness in his encounter with Lord Time, complete with all the phrases involving time you can think of. It’s a joyously daft moment. Matt Lucas is perfectly cast again as Tweedledum and Tweedledee and there’s the assorted voices of Timothy Spall, Michael Sheen and Barbara Windsor as his various friends, Stephen Fry as the voice of the Cheshire Cat and the late Alan Rickman as the voice of Absolom, the butterfly that tracks Alice down.
The new arrival is Lord Time, the ideal role for Sacha Baron Cohen to show off in and he duly obliges. He’s supplemented with some watch like wheels and cogs at the base of his skull and on his chest, he’s completely in thrall to Bonham Carter and bullied by her for his devotion and speaks with a cod German accent. He’s simply great fun as a villain.
The CGI is done on a massive scale, especially Alice’s travels back in time, and looks spectacular. Yet these sequences are both so long and so frequent as to become repetitive that they seem like an attempt to disguise the plot’s shortcomings. And they’re definitely there. Especially the contrived piece of nonsense at the beginning and end about Alice being a ship’s captain, which is just tedious dreary.
Disney has been on something of a roll since the start of the year, on fire last month with The Jungle Book and Captain America: Civil War and Zootropolis the month before. Alice’s latest outing has been given the regulation Disney marketing support, but it’s not up to the standard set by its three predecessors. Not by a long shot. Technically on a grand scale, but it’s missing one key ingredient. Magic. I’d have settled for a little less technology and a little more genuine enchantment.
So this time, my expectations were about right. It’s no worse than the first one, nor any better. Just underwhelming.
Alice Through The Looking Glass is released in cinemas on Friday, 27 May and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 26 May.