Full disclosure: I haven’t seen Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010), the loosely adapted ‘reimagining’ of Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s stories – and predecessor to this new offering. I have my reasons.
Throw this dog a groan
Tim Burton is indisputably one of the master visual craftsmen of our time and I’m fond of many of his works (Ed Wood, Big Fish and Mars Attacks among them). But every so often, there comes an announcement such as “Tim Burton to direct an adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” that provokes a groan.
Similarly, with “Tim Burton directs Alice In Wonderland” one immediately pictures Johnny Depp, lolloping left, front and centre, and Helena Bonham-Carter in some ‘delightfully’ kooky guise (the Red Queen in this case), and extrapolate from there the competently made, utterly unsurprising outcome of said production.
With this follow-up, screenwriter Linda Woolverton returns along with much of the cast, but Burton this time takes more of a back-seat, serving as producer and leaving the helm to British director James Bobin (Muppets Most Wanted).
While Burton’s 2010 original was not strictly a sequel itself, it was mounted as a return for an older Alice who finds a Wonderland (or Underland) she had come to believe existed only in dreams. In this actual sequel, Alice finds her way back again via the titular ‘looking glass’.
Flatter than the Red Queen
We join Alice (Wasikowska) in the midst of a swashbuckling battle as she captains her late father’s ship, The Wonder, home to London. On her arrival she learns that she is to be stripped of the ship and her captaincy thanks to her mother selling Alice’s shares in her father’s company. Instead she’s to become a lowly clerk at the company and spend her life behind a desk.
This being a reality too awful for her to consider, Alice escapes back to Underland where she learns of Hatter’s (Depp looking eerily like Madonna) desperation to find his family who, after long fearing them dead, he now believes are alive. What follows is a time travelling CGI-driven bonanza that has aimed to tick all the boxes of a children’s adventure tale but, even in IMAX 3D, feels remarkably flat.
The stench of Darth Disney
From the off, there’s the faintest whiff of those direct-to-DVD sequels that Disney wheels out in the wake of a monster hit. Alice as a ship’s captain, returning from China and proceeding to flounce about London in traditional Chinese garb, is initially a tonal surprise.
But it soon grows into an annoyance: combining a transparent pandering to the Chinese market with a clumsy attempt at shoehorning the character into Disney’s increasingly pseudo-feminist template. Simply dropping females into a pair of trousers is not a byword for strength of character, it’s more often sloppy writing. Strong heroines should certainly be encouraged, but Captain Alice is drawn with such half-heartedness it renders her neither inspiring nor particularly insulting.
So what is intended to provoke laughter conjures, at best, a rare titter. The thrills aren’t thrilling and the spectacle isn’t spectacular. The performances, stunted by lacklustre writing, are far too dry and mannered. Anne Hathaway, who reprises her role as the White Queen, is painfully self-aware throughout – her delivery is monotonous in the extreme.
If you decided to skip the original, watching this sequel will only compound the wisdom of that decision.