Johnny Depp in Alice Through the Looking Glass (Photo: Disney)

★½ (out of four)
STARS Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska

The Walrus and the Carpenter are nowhere to be found in Alice Through the Looking Glass, meaning audiences will have to make do with the addition of Marty McFly and Captain Jack Sparrow.

Those popular celluloid characters are present in spirit (if not body) in this follow-up to 2010’s phenomenally successful Alice in Wonderland, with Linda Woolverton again taking on mangling — I mean, screenwriting — duties but Tim Burton stepping aside as director for Flight of the Conchords‘ James Bobin (Burton retains producer credit). The title suggests that this is an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, the author’s sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but don’t you believe it — Bobin, Woolverton and company have as much use for Carroll’s wondrous text as a white rabbit does for a Wall Street Journal subscription.

That’s a real shame, because true innovation is often in short supply when it comes to family features. Yet the profiteers behind this picture couldn’t care less, preferring instead to lazily trigger memories of past hits rather than offer anything that might challenge or ruffle audiences. So why not open with a sea battle straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean? And why not make the central storyline a twist on Back to the Future (particularly Part II), with Alice (Mia Wasikowska) called upon to traverse the years in a time machine in an effort to save her own eccentric Doc Brown, the perpetually annoying Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp in his now-standard jack-in-the-box mode)?

If the previous movie gave us a few pages of needless backstory, then this one offers a War and Peace-sized volume of similar nonsense. It turns out that The Hatter (not named by Carroll but here called Tarrant Hightopp) suffers from even more daddy issues than George W. Bush, while the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) harbors a terrible secret (no, she doesn’t hide a Crying Game-sized penis; that sort of audacity would have been worth an extra star or two). Even Alice, a curious child in the books but now a colorless adult, has to deal with the daunting legacy of her late father and the crippling interference of her well-meaning mother (Lindsay Duncan). It’s all so … 2016.

As the Red Queen, Helena Bonham Carter easily gave the best performance in Alice in Wonderland, and she’s effective here as well. Also back is Alan Rickman, briefly lending his vocals to the CGI-birthed Caterpillar. This marks the late actor’s final screen performance, a depressing thought considering his otherwise vibrant resume. And as the physical manifestation of Time itself, a jumpy Sacha Baron Cohen joins the cast and delivers a take-it-or-leave-it performance that will delight some and bore others. Since I’m given the choice, I’m gonna leave it.

Still, Cohen does turn up in one of the film’s few delightful scenes, a tea party in which Time punishes the attendants for their rudeness with a unique torture. Why does this scene work? Could it be because it drew its inspiration from Carroll’s actual source material? And just think, there was plenty more where that came from!

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