Tim Burton’s 2010 adaptation of Alice In Wonderland wasn’t the freaky masterpiece fans of Lewis Carroll’s beloved 1865 novel were hoping for. But the CGI-heavy film was a huge box office hit, grossing over $1 billion globally to become Burton’s biggest ever seat-filler. Even so, Disney could only persuade him to return for this film as a producer, so James Bobin (The Muppets, Flight Of The Conchords) has been drafted in to direct this even wobblier follow-up.
Based only loosely on Carroll’s own sequel book Through The Looking Glass, the story follows headstrong Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) as she takes a second trip to Underland /Wonderland by leaping into a magic mirror after a tense exchange with a business rival. Back in this fantastical alternate universe, she finds her old friend the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) suffering from a debilitating case of depression because he’s missing his family, who were apparently killed many years before. With encouragement from the kind-hearted White Queen (Anne Hathaway), she borrows a time-travelling device called the Chronosphere from Time personified (Sacha Baron Cohen) so she can travel back to save the Hatter’s family.
Although Bobin’s film has similarly impressive visuals to its predecessor, its starry cast remains the major selling point. Depp charms again, Cohen is amusing, pompous and self-contradicting and Helena Bonham Carter, given a grossly oversized head with CGI, has fun stomping around as the sadistic Red Queen. There are also entertaining turns from Matt Lucas, as dim-witted twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and the late Alan Rickman who, in one of his final film roles, lends his unmistakable voice to Absolem the caterpillar.
But although screenwriter Linda Woolverton paints Alice Kingsleigh as a kind of feminist pioneer taking over the family business from her father, Wasikowska’s heroine is less compelling than she should be. The time-travelling narrative never quite grips either, which means Bobin’s film begins to drag once the thrill of the visuals wears off. Alice Through The Looking Glass has some diverting moments, but don’t expect to leave grinning like a Cheshire Cat.