Review: Second ‘Alice’ no trip to Wonderland

Adam Graham Detroit News Film Critic

This “Alice” is no wonderland.

“Alice Through the Looking Glass,” the sequel to the 2010 smash “Alice in Wonderland,” is a time-hopping turkey, dressing up predictable themes of forgiveness and the inability to change the past in an overly busy visual design that aims to distract from the lack of imagination on screen.

Sure, there’s plenty to gawk at, from the bulbous, oversized head and wondrous heart-shaped hairstyle of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) to the portly, bumbling twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Matt Lucas) to the massive ticking clock that literally represents the hands of time. Whether blending actors with slick post-production tricks or going for pure effects, it’s a nonstop visual overload.

But everything is so overly artificial and computer generated that it begins to look like nothing more than a wash of FX, a whiz kid showing off the power of his new apps. An alternate title could be “Alice Through the Screensaver.”

Of course the world of the film is meant to be fantastical, but director James Bobin — stepping in for Tim Burton, who brought his warped visual sensibility to the first film — loses any sense of humanity in his wonderland.

It all becomes digital noise, made to seem even more synthetic in a 3-D presentation that doesn’t add anything except a couple of dollars to the ticket price.

Mia Wasikowska returns as Alice, who when the film opens in 1874 is sailing the high seas, leading her father’s ship through a rainstorm through the Straits of Malacca and saving her crew with her instinctual know-how.

But she is soon visited by Absolem (voice of Alan Rickman, rest in peace) who leads her back to the world of Wonderland. It turns out things aren’t so good with her old friend, the Hatter (Johnny Depp, returning to the role), whose family, thought to be dead, might be alive. Alice doesn’t believe him, which causes Hatter to shut down and all but lose hope.

“You are not you,” he whispers to her.

That leads Alice to Time (Sacha Baron Cohen), the cracked timekeeper who maintains the world’s clock, whom Cohen plays as a cranky mischief maker with a thick Russian accent. If Alice can just jump back in time, she can figure out what happened with Hatter’s family and bring him back to his zany self.

She swipes the Chronosphere — get used to that word, it’s used a lot — which is essentially the heartbeat of the world clock, and she begins jumping through time trying to restore order to the land. But the Red Queen also wants to get her hands on the Chronosphere, which would make her an even more powerful force.

Oddly, “Through the Looking Glass” winds up hinging on a childhood incident between the Red Queen, her sister the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and some spilled dessert crumbs. Turns out a whole lot of disruptions in the space-time continuum and narrative chaos could have been solved with a simple “sorry,” which isn’t much to hang a film on, but it’s what passes for drama in Linda Woolverton’s congested screenplay.

If there’s a saving grace here, it’s Depp, who at this point could sleepwalk through one of his signature wackadoodle character portrayals (and does, in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films), but gives his lisping Hatter a gentle, innocent spirit beneath the Carrot Top wig and plastered makeup. He’s not on screen much, but when he is you want more, which isn’t always the case with Depp’s sideshow showboats.

Still, Depp’s not enough to overcome the nagging sense of hollowness at the center of “Looking Glass.” Burton had the right idea sitting this one out; one trip to “Wonderland” was plenty.

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‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’


Rated PG for fantasy action/peril and some language

Running time: 113 minutes