An overload of soulless CGI, wooden characterisation and a plodding, ludicrous script are major downfalls of this lacklustre follow-up to 2010’s Alice in Wonderland. However, there’s still enough visual inventiveness and star power to generate interest in this watchable but underwhelming sequel to Tim Burton’s original, which itself was no great shakes.
The plot has very little to do with the barmy book by Lewis Carroll. Instead veteran Disney screenwriter Linda Woolverton (The Lion King) has devised a story in which Alice (Mia Wasikowska) travels back to Wonderland/Underland via a magic mirror and is called to action to help her old buddy the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp). He has lost his mojo and is in ill health due to the loss of his family. Believing that Alice is the only one capable of bringing them back, he is further dismayed when she dismisses his call to action. Alice however soon loses her scepticism and steps up to the challenge, finding herself hurtling back in time in via a mysterious contraption called the Chronosphere in order to alter events that caused the Hatter’s family to disappear.
Although only involved as a producer this time, the vibrant, Goth-lite vision devised by Burton on the first film is employed again here. Along with Alice and the Hatter, most of the other characters are reprised from the original as well. The likes of Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas), the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) and Absolem the blue caterpillar (voiced by Alan Rickman in his final role) all make fleeting appearances. There’s a mildly compelling subplot which provides some back story to the feud between the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway). Yet the best parts of the film come via a new character, Time, personified by Sacha Baron Cohen. Director James Bobin previously worked with Baron Cohen on the Ali G TV show and has made an inspired choice by bringing his comrade into the fray. Baron Cohen’s presence injects some much needed wit and playfulness to the film. The sequences which take place in his fantastically conceived domicile are also the most visually striking and entertaining of the entire franchise.
There’s no doubt that the film looks good. Set and costume design are very impressive, action sequences are nicely constructed, but the story itself is unengaging. The film limps toward a tired conclusion. As story strands are tied up and Alice bids farewell to the Hatter, you realise that the film, for all it’s bluster and frantic time hopping shenanigans, has failed to connect on any kind of emotional level. It ultimately leaves you wondering why Alice bothered climbing through the mirror at all.