Let me preface this by saying I was not a fan of the 2010 Tim Burton “Alice in Wonderland”. Not that I wasn’t open to it, at the time I thought if anyone was weird enough to pull off a live action version of that story it would be him. I do love the Disney Animated version from 1951, I’ve seen it over a dozen times, and that was well before my kids were born. The book by Lewis Carroll is also a favorite with its nonsense story and wacky wordplay. Something though was lost in the translation in Burton’s version, while visually impressive, it lacked what makes the story special, its heart. But it made a billion dollars, so, sequel.
Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has been on a real life adventure at sea for the past three years in the film’s timeline. She has been to China and since this is a live action Disney movie, she has to battle pirates of course. She has matured in her time away, but on her return home, she has neglected her only family and that has lead to possibly losing her ship the “Wonder”. It doesn’t take long for her to find her way back to Wonderland through a mirror in the home of her ex-fiancee (what a coincidence). Once there, she sees her old friends The White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), The White Queen (Anne Hathaway), and the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) who inform her that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) has gone even more mad. When she sees him, he tells her that he believes that his family who died in the first film never actually died. The only way for Alice to help is to break into the realm of Time (Sacha Baron Choen) and steal his guarded chronosphere and go back in time to help the Hatter and his family. Things get even more complicated with the interference and return of The Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter).
Much like the Tim Burton film this one directed by James Bobin (Muppets Most Wanted) is visually interesting, though some of the CG feels a little last minute. The cast is still worth watching as they fit right back into their characters, Depp as Hatter and Carter as the Red Queen were especially more enjoyable to watch. The problem lies much as with the first film on the writing by Linda Woolverton who was a huge deal in the boom of Disney animated films of the 90’s, she was a writer on “Beauty and the Beast”, “The Lion King”, and helped develop the stories for “Aladdin” and “Mulan”. In both her “Alice” films she just miss the mark of what makes these classic characters so special. They are given so little to do, that when huge moments occur in their individual stories, you kinda don’t care. There is so much spectacle that the story is neglected and the basic learn-your-lesson plot adds nothing to the final film.
I’m not saying they should adhere strictly to the source material, clearly they went another direction. The film has funny moments, but is not fun, it’s bright and colorful but flat, and I was totally ready when they introduced time-travel, but even that was borderline “Terminator: Genisys” confusing. In the end there is very little ‘wonder’ to these films and I hope they let it end here, but if there is another billon made, they would be ‘mad’ not to make it a trilogy.
–Robert L. Castillo