In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
When Tim Burton first announced that he would be adapting Alice in Wonderland, I’ll be honest in saying that my first reaction was to roll my eyes. After the unmitigated disaster that was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I was unhappy to hear that the increasingly resting on his laurels Tim Burton would be tackling another beloved children’s tale. Alice in Wonderland has just enough spirals as is, Mr. Burton. No need to crank it up. But lo and behold, it turned out to be pretty decent. Burton has an eye for design, and a knack for taking such dense construction and putting it into motion. Moreover, he properly employed 3D technology to a gimmicky, yet restrained, effect. The story was as clear as a Carroll adaptation can be, and the actors seemed to really dig into the strangeness of it all. It’s no masterpiece, but it worked. Unfortunately, the follow up film, Alice Through the Looking Glass, sans the skilled technician behind the original entry, is a convoluted, joyless, nausea-inducing mess. James Bobin (The Muppets) picks up the reins presumably where we left off. I can’t remember. Alice (Mia Wasikowska, fighting against all odds to elevate this garbage) is the captain of a ship or something, and after returning from the high seas, she has found that shady business dealings with a former suitor have forced her to make a choice: she can either give up her beloved ship, or her mom will be ejected from her home. They explain why this is, but I don’t care.
She escapes this situation by jumping through a mirror (or “looking glass,” as British people say) and into Underland. I don’t know why it’s not called Wonderland, but I really do not care. She meets up with all of her Underland friends, including the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp, or maybe a corpse), who is currently despondent because he believes that his family, whom he thought had perished at the hands of a Jabberwocky, may still be alive. Have I lost you yet? It’s fine. I promise that you do not care. Anywho, Alice has to travel through time or something and OHMYGOD I cannot stress enough how little I care.
What ensues is a tired, boring adventure in which there are absolutely no stakes (Alice is pretty much the cause of every problem), and every reveal amounts to “hey look, it turns out everything was just fine the whole time, but we were too busy being stupid to notice.”
If this were a children’s picture book, the visuals would be impressive. There is a lot of imagination on display, and it’s notable how much of it differs from Burton’s original design. There aren’t nearly as many spirals, and much of the world of Underland has a bright, chirpy quality that, as I said before, would be at home in a splash page at the center of a picture book. But in motion, the colorful and detailed design takes on a vomitous quality. Put that melted-crayon soup on an IMAX screen and bring it to life in 3D, and you might enhance the experience with some vomit of your own. I’m not one who gets nauseated at the movies (I’ll watch Cloverfield on a roller coaster to prove it if you want to set it up), but this was just too much. At times I felt like I was watching Nothing But Trouble. My tumbly was grumbly.
This comparison comes to light mostly in the way that many of the characters look or behave. The Mad Hatter looks like someone bedazzled a wax figure of Jack White that was given a real human’s eyeballs (and his lisp makes 98% of his dialogue unintelligible). The Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham Carter, happy to be working) is featured in way too many extreme close-ups, usually as she’s engaging in shrill screaming fits. Time (Sacha Baron Cohen doing his best Werner Herzog) attempts to bring some much needed humor into the mix. Attempts.
I want to borrow Alice’s time machine so I can travel to the past and decide to avoid this movie. Or travel so far into the future that I can watch the sun explode and destroy our world.
All said, a kid might enjoy it, but not a kid old enough to go to the movies without his or her parents, and parents should avoid this one like it’s coughing blood and not covering its mouth.
Alice Through the Looking Glass opens in Philly theaters today.