Oh, Alice, we’re not in Wonderland anymore. Not so much, anyway.
That cheeky screenwriter Linda Woolverton (“Maleficent,” “The Lion King”) has stripped all the wonder out of it. And “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” which has precious little to do with the rhyming collection Lewis Carroll penned with that title, is a dreary, joyless affair.
Poor overmatched director James Bobin (“The Muppets”) ladled on the gloom for this 3D eye candy epic. And not even the cackling Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen can save it.
“OFF with his head!”
In order to get back to Wonderland and reprise all the characters that made Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” a Disney blockbuster, Woolverton had to create an older, pre-feminist Alice (Mia Wasikowska) action heroine, out to save her “best friend,” the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) from dying of sadness.
Alice must time travel back to the day when his family was killed. To do that, she must steal a gadget from Time himself. Time is played by Sacha Baron Cohen, who fiddles around with an accent/impersonation (well after casting, wardrobe fittings and shooting his first scenes) until he settles on the Viennese snarl of Christoph Waltz.
Yes, I will bide my time until the nick of time and give Disney two actors for the price of one!
Time chases after Alice, but runs afoul of her Tea Party pals. Who proceed to pun the poor chap to tears.
“Time is on my side,” says the March Hare, having a seat next to the guest.
“You’re late,” they all hiss at the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) .
No, he purrs, settling in on a shoulder. “I’m right…on Time!”
There’s a nasty sibling rivalry back-story between the Red Queen and White Queen (Anne Hathaway) to settle.
And Woolverton wastes a staggering amount of Time (hah!) cooking up “real” names or alternate names for everyone from the Hatter (Tarrant Hightopp), the queens (Iracebeth and Mirana), the Caterpillar (the late Alan Rickman voiced Absolem).
The effects and costumes are so elaborate that virtually every scene consists of somebody all dolled-up and digitized, standing stock still to deliver their lines. Because if Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (Matt Lucas of TV’s “Little Britain”) move more than an inch or two, the effect will not work.
There’s little spark between Depp and Wasikowska here. Depp’s makeup is even more involved than in the first film, and lines like “You’re bonkers, aren’t you? All the best ones are,” are few and far between.
The eye candy is dazzling, but nobody told Bobin how under-lighting most scenes would deaden the 3D. To say nothing of making note-taking in the almost uninterrupted darkness damn near impossible. Mutter.
The best bit of Woolverton invention is the least Carroll-like of all. We meet Alice in the opening, years after her childhood, and she’s an intrepid ship captain, outrunning Malay pirates (in junks) by heeling her vessel so that it can snake through a shallow, rocky passage and escape.
“Hard a’port!” she commands.
And the ship? It turns and heels to starboard. Silly Land Lubber Woolverton. Not as easy as plagiarizing “The Lion King” from “Kimba,” a Japanese cartoon, is it?
MPAA Rating:PG for fantasy action/peril and some language
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Rhys Ifans
Credits: Directed by James Bobbin, script by Linda Woolverton, loosely based upon the Lewis Carroll books. A Walt Disney release.
Running time: 1:53