The aesthetic and tone of the Alice franchise is one determined by Tim Burton, and now perpetuated by James Bobin, in this reimagining of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass. The newly-instated director comes to this project with an aptitude for accessibility – displayed in The Muppets – and for humour, which we’ve seen in his work on Flight of the Conchords. Though hoping he may bring such distinctive sensibilities to this particular universe, regrettably this underwhelming production struggles to triumph in either area.
We delve back into the life of Alice (Mia Wasikowska), who desperately vies to escape from reality and the hardships that come with it, by returning to Wonderland to catch up with her old friends. But upon her arrival she is greeted by the news that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is depressed, triggered by the discovery of an old hat he made for his father, which has convinced him that his family are still alive. Though deeming such a scenario as impossible, if there is one thing Alice has learnt, it’s that anything can be possible – so with that frame of mind she seeks in travelling back in time to uncover exactly what happened to her dear old friend’s beloved family.
To do so, she must get her hands on the magical sceptre – which belongs to the precious antagonist Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) who fears her adventure could lead to devastating circumstances. Determined to overcome the odds, as she does best, Alice heads back in time, and there she gets stuck into a whole new set of circumstances, getting to the bottom of the tempestuous, strained relationship between royal sisters the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and her manipulative older sister, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter).
The picture is striking to look at, as we inhabit such a vibrant, vivacious environment. But away from the visual experience is a thin narrative that struggles to compel. In the trailer it appeared Alice’s institutionalisation was a prevalent theme, and promised an intriguing narrative – but it merely makes up a brief scene within this haphazard production. That being said, the one constant is the feminist approach to this blockbuster, complete with such a strong-willed, independent protagonist, particularly pointed given the context of the era in which this story is set. Alice remains a wonderful, important role model for young audiences, and the fact she’s an underdog based around her gender is a theme alluded to and enforced throughout, enriching the picture in the process.
Wasikowska turns in an impressive display, as do all of the leading cast, as Bobin squeezes some impressive, subtle performances out of such unsubtle character creations – which is noteworthy considering how CGI-heavy this feature is. But the lack of linearity is detrimental, as it is a film that’s all too chaotic, and not in an endearing sense. It seems an odd misgiving to have given the nature of this franchise, but as we’re without any familiarity with the narrative, we’re more reliant on a stronger story to immerse ourselves in, complete with more implications, with more at stake – and instead we’re left wanting.