Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, which came out back in 2010, was a bit of a gamble. It was the studio’s first live-action retelling of one of their classic animated films. It was mostly CGI, which is ungodly expensive. And it starred a relatively unknown actress at the time (Mia Wasikowska) in its titular role alongside a well-known character actor who was starting to face backlash for his oversaturation (Johnny Depp). But it was a HUGE success, crossing the $1 billion mark, which helped greenlight the live-action retellings we’re seeing now: Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast.
But the decision to make Alice Through the Looking Glass is baffling to me. First, why revisit Alice? There are so many animated film retellings we haven’t seen yet (Give me Mulan, or so help me I will burn Disney World to the ground, Mouse). You’d think Disney would want those out first before coming back to sequels. But fine, we have an Alice sequel. Then why wait six years to release it? Disney announced the sequel in 2012 and didn’t start filming until 2014. At that point, how many people had forgotten the story and its characters? How many just didn’t care? (Take note for Avatar 2, James Cameron.)
I get how this movie was made. $1 billion is Disney’s new bar for their summer blockbusters, so Alice Through the Looking Glass probably looked like easy money. But it’s a sequel to a movie that wasn’t exactly loved by critics or moviegoers (It’s at 52% on Rotten Tomatoes), and it cost $170 million to make (if Disney’s not lowballing the estimate in the reports, which I’m pretty sure they are). Even when the initial trailer came out, the internet responded with a resounding “Meh.” So…why?
After watching Alice Through the Looking Glass, I really don’t understand. Because it’s not great. Unless you’re tripping balls or a small child who only pays attention to flashy things that move, there’s nothing for you. And don’t come at me with this “Well, it’s a movie for kids” argument because I’ll raise you Inside Out, a kids movie that tackled the complexity of mental health and made grown men and women weep. This was just a lazy movie, one that seemed less about entertaining its audience and more about supporting the franchise machine.
The things that made Alice in Wonderland enjoyable—like the friendship between Wasikowska’s Alice and Depp’s Mad Hatter and the wacky characters they run into along their “impossible” journey—have all been watered down or sidelined. Cheshire Cat, Absolem, Bayard, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, Thackery, and Mallymkun—I think they may have a combined total of eight minutes onscreen.
With the non-animated characters, it’s even worse because you know they’re getting paid more to do nothing. Anne Hathaway’s White Queen looks like she’s sleepwalking through the story while Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen stomps around screaming about a revenge that lasts all of two seconds. Hell, the Mad Hatter is featured heavily throughout the trailers and promotional photos, yet he’s barely in the film. Even newcomer Sacha Baron Cohen, who plays Underland’s clock-controlling villain Time, is as inconsequential to this movie’s story as the concept of time itself, making it hard to believe he’s actually a threat to our protagonist.
As expected, the production design is the strongest part of Alice Through the Looking Glass. From the opening scenes of Alice captaining her father’s ship through a torrential storm to the eccentric costumes and castle designs, it’s top-notch CGI. In fact, the time-travel sequences are the most spectacular because time is designed as a stormy ocean, and each major event in time is an enormous wave. It’s pretty cool…up until the story goes for the “You can’t change the past” moral. It’s a legitimate message that ties back into the story, don’t get me wrong. But considering we spend most of the movie time-traveling only for it to be NOPE’d, it kind of makes those sequences feel like a waste of time.
That’s the best way to describe this movie: A waste of time.
Alice Through the Looking Glass: C-
Listen to my review of Alice Through the Looking Glass on “Pat & JT in the Morning” here (at 39:44).