Six years ago, Alice in Wonderland unexpectedly took the global box office by storm. Now, we have Alice Through the Looking Glass, which is the exact same movie.
After a bunch of boring stuff happens in the real world, Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) returns to Wonderland after being guided to a magical mirror by Absolem (Alan Rickman), who was mysteriously absent from that point on for some unknown reason. Kingsleigh reunites with all the good guys from the first movie who tell her the very best one, the mad hatter Tarrant Hightopp (Johnny Depp, Louis Ashbourne Serkis as a child) has become very depressed. Hightopp is certain that his family, which was killed by the Red Queen Icerabeth’s (Helena Bonham Carter, Lellah de Meza as a child) Jabberwocky several years ago, is alive, and no one will believe him. After some cajoling, Kingsleigh is sent to take the chronosphere from the personification of Time (Sasha Baron Cohen doing a hackney Arnold Schwarzenegger impression), who moonlights as the Grim Reaper, and use it to go back in time and retrieve the Hightopp family so her imaginary friend won’t die of depression.
Sequels are always tricky and strange, and there are a lot of shortcuts studios take to try and make them successful. This one took the shortcut of being exactly the same as the first movie in every way it could. Same too-perfect makeup. Same vague, half-hearted stab at feminist themes. Same awkward overimportance placed on the hatter because they convinced Depp to play him.
Same obvious attempts to be quirky and out there, which create a movie that’s always weird, but never unpredictable and never genuine in any other way. Alice Through the Looking Glass has a strong personality, but it’s an awful personality. This movie is that middle school loner who is LOL so random instead of having any actual characteristics. It’s that real-life Manic Pixie Dream Girl who seems mysterious and magical at first, but is actually just kind of a ditz.
It’s really tough to connect with any of the characters. Like the movie itself, there’s a lot of substitutes for personality traits. The background characters are really gimmicky, and made with the obvious hope of selling toys. The ones that are expanded on are all really bratty. Icerabeth’s flaw is selfishness, which she takes to an extreme of almost psychotic egotism and vanity, but the heroic characters don’t have any moral highground to speak of. They don’t seem to take it to the red queen’s extreme, but Kingsleigh’s plan, which was pushed on her by the White Queen Miranda (Anne Hathaway, Amelia Crouch as a child) with the blessing of all their anthropomorphic friends, risks the destruction of reality itself just to cheer their friend up a bit.
Despite being a weak film with a slapdash marketing effort — and a distribution team that set it up against X-Men: Apocalypse — Alice Through the Looking Glass has a pretty dramatic heritage. Alice in Wonderland, which was just a pet project for a director, Tim Burton, who’s best days were known to be well behind him, overcame mixed reviews to become just the sixth movie ever to gross $1 billion worldwide. Its opening weekend domestic total of $116 million was more than any movie had made all year at that point. It may seem obvious when viewed in hindsight of its extensive progeny — Snow White and the Huntsman, Maleficent and all of Disney’s other recent dark twists of classic cartoons derive from this movie — but the success was shocking.
With Burton only producing, Through the Looking Glass is obviously a much more commercial project than an artistic one, but they blundered with a lot of the commercial aspects here. Normally with a commercially driven sequel the turnaround is two-to-three years maximum — and there’s a huge risk of the audience losing interest past that point, especially for a kid movie — but this movie didn’t even have a director (James Bobin) until May 2013, two months past that rough deadline, and didn’t confirm its principle actors’ return until that November. Principal photography wasn’t until August 2014.
A lot of balls got dropped here, and the movie is feeling it at the box office. Reviews have been brutal, and it’s tracking for just over $35 million for Memorial Day weekend, well below where Disney was hoping to open — and well below where they really need to open with a movie that cost $170 million to make. Yikes.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. I’ve had a change of heart in regard to reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.