Curiouser and curiouser. Filmmakers have been trying to render Lewis Carroll’s Alice books almost since the advent of film itself (in 1910, the Edison Manufacturing Company produced the short silent “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”). What they don’t get (but what Jefferson Airplane apparently did) is that hallucinogens were far more readily attainable in Carroll’s time. In other words, his writings were riddles wrapped in mysteries inside enigmas vaped through a hookah.
That said, Disney’s follow-up to its successful “Alice in Wonderland,” “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” has little in common with the trippy 1872 book of the same name. Principals from this one’s 2006 predecessor all return — Mia Wasikowska as Alice, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, Anne Hathaway as the White Queen, the late Alan Rickman voicing the Caterpillar/Butterfly, and of course, Johnny Depp overacting as the Mad Hatter.
Carroll’s writing is obsessed with time (e.g., Alice: “How long is forever?” White Rabbit: “Sometimes, just one second”), so it makes sense that a preposterous new storyline introduces the adversarial character Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) who rules Underland, Alice’s sleepy-time universe.
Fleeing the consequences of spurning an old flame, Alice steps through a parlor mirror and finds herself among her old friends like the Tweedles, Cheshire Cat and Humpty Dumpty, all of whom are concerned with the funk the Mad Hatter is in.
Alice sets out in a race against time, with Time, to try to alter the circumstances that fractured Hatter’s family. The film reminds us (again and again) that you can’t change the past, but you can learn from it. (“Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.”) Twisted into Alice’s time travel is the Red Queen’s origin tale, which owes its beginnings to both tart crumbs and Hatter mocking her big head.
This one’s a mess but the incredible scene-stealing Helena Bonham Carter as the high-strung and high-maintenance Red Queen makes it tolerable. Tim Burton’s original hyper-coloring and wild visuals are back, too (although Burton himself is not, “Muppets” director James Bobin helms).
Steampunk animation, as it were, seems either inspired by or lifted from all of Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” “Transformers” and “Robots.” But where it could have benefited most would be Anne Hathaway’s bland performance.
With more than a dozen adaptations already on film, this particularly queer take on the books seems even odder. To use Carroll’s own words, “It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.”
2 out of 5 honks