If it wasn’t evident by now, Disney has money to burn, lots and lots of it. Already, just counting Zootopia, The Jungle Book and Captain America: Civil War this year, the studio is well over two billion dollars worldwide and still climbing, so they can afford to throw some money into a churning bonfire of garbage. This is exactly what they did with Alice Through The Looking Glass, the $170 million dollar follow up to the 2010 Alice In Wonderland, a film that I thoroughly disliked but it earned over a billion dollars worldwide so business as usual for Disney. What they rolled out for the expectant audience was even more of an abomination than I could even imagine, proving that studios don’t need any sort of substance to make a close to two hundred million dollar venture.
So, why as I so obtuse to the first movie? Well, it’s easy to say I’m not the only one that loathed the first film, as both friends and critics alike weren’t sold on Tim Burton’s vision of the classic Lewis Carroll story, spinning out of control in a colorful nightmare of madness with the same clichéd flair his films has had since his last real original idea, Big Fish. Another movie for Johnny Depp to be odd and quirky, and Helena Bonham Carter to be creepy, but this time with a giant head. All visuals with no great story cohesion. All this film served to be was an exercise in “look what we can do with computer effects”, and while it’s visually stunning, without a story, who cares? Unfortunately, no one had an answer for this question and we are subjected once again to the same thing but with a far lesser result.
Three years after the events of Alice In Wonderland, our lead (Mia Wasikowska) is traveling the seas on her late father’s boat, following his footsteps to China and back to London, where she is confronted with terrible news. Her family’s shipping company has fallen on hard times causing her mother to sell the last ship in their fleet, Alice’s ship The Wonder, to the rival company headed by Hamish Ascot, the man Alice left at the alter at the end of the last film. Obviously, Hamish has nothing but ill intent for the family and works a clause into the agreement that she will come work for him as a lowly subordinate, which is revealed to her at a party she’s attending. Out of the corner of her eye she sees Absolem the Caterpillar (voiced by the late Alan Rickman, his final performance), now a butterfly, who leads her through a mirror and back to the world of Wonderland.
All is not well in the strange land, as The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is totally bent out of sorts over the very real possibility that his family is alive and well but in a location unknown to him. Alice decides to take it upon herself to figure out what happened to her friend’s family and, with the help of Mirana of Marmoreal, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), she hatches a plan to break into the home of Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) to liberate a time machine called the Chronosphere. With this device, Alice starts to leap back in time to unravel the mystery of the Hatter and is family, as well as exposes some of the back story of Mirana and her sister the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), who is looking to steal the Chronosphere for herself.
As visually arresting as this film is, with all the animators really working with a completely blank slate to do anything they want, none of it matters when the story is a bungled bunch of nonsense that doesn’t line up with any of the narrative threads they are trying to lay out. Coupled with that nonsense is the reality that the source author, Lewis Carroll, was not only a children’s author and mathematician but a known opium addict with a loose grip on anything sensible. Baffling still, Alice Through The Looking Glass is operating with less sense than even a hallucinating man in the late 1800s could muster. Instead, we have a bunch of characters dealing with deep seeded family issues that seek resolutions that feel far too easy and predictable.
This film is also one of the most glaringly obvious paycheque movies for almost every actor involved in the film, aside from Baron Cohen, who tries to bring the most of his onscreen charm with a script that barely allows him to do so. In contrast to that, Anne Hathaway’s quick scenes are a blur of terrible line delivery and distracting sweeping arm motions, betraying the notion that she really could care less what the final product on the screen is. The only thing that bothered me as much was Johnny Depp’s performance, a once huge draw for any moviegoer, now just hovering around as a farce of what he once was, just slapping you in the face with over hammed character after character, and still looking like the offspring of Ronald McDonald and Madonna. I’m sad to admit that I feel completely devoid of feeling for any of his projects now. I’ve been burned too many times now.
The argument arises that Alice Through The Looking Glass is a film not meant for the adult audience but for kids exclusively, which poses another problem to me. If we’re not willing to give that same love and care to bringing a quality product for all demographics, what are we setting our kids up for their future viewing as they get older? Are we setting this generation up to be content with mediocrity or should we show these youngsters something of quality and substance and steer them away from the obvious cash grabs some of these that should have been direct-to-video sequels that their imaginative young minds beg us to see? With this trend becoming more and more commonplace, I shudder to think what the lasting effect of “yeah, it’s terrible but the kids love it” will have. We deserve better and our kids need to be seen as more than easy pickings. I give this film a one and a half out of five.