The Simpsons, Nirvana, skateboard culture, relative political peace – everything was just better in the 90s, and that served triple time at Disney. Don’t believe it? In the 90s Disney released Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aladdin, Toy Story 1 and 2, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and of course, Flubber. Since then, Disney have pumped out more forgettable films per year than it did in the entire decade of the 90s. Just search “Disney films” and any year from 2000 to now and count the films you’ve heard of.
So you might not be surprised to hear that Alice Through the Looking Glass struggles and fails to give nonsense a narrative, opting to cash in on viewers rather than create a lasting classic. Despite its saturated colors and 3D novelty vibes, director James Bobin and screenwriter Linda Woolverton (produced by Tim Burton, lest he get off the hook) force emotion and Alice-ian character mythology down your throat, completely abandoning any attempt at a plot resembling Carroll’s classic.
Instead, it uses recognizable characters to fuel a continuing exploration of Johnny Depp’s daddy issues. Remember Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in which the chocolate factory becomes a metaphor for Depp’s issues with his dentist father? It’s that! But in Wonderland – sorry – Underland! “The last thing I want is to end up like my father,” lisps Depp as the Mad Hatter. Alright, fair enough, but this really isn’t about you and your father, Hatter – or should I say Tarrant, his real name, we discover. Except, oh wait, yes it is about you and your dad. The film is entirely about that.
Worse still, there are constant nods to Carroll’s novel. They’re intended to be wry, no doubt, but they’re completely meaningless, plonked in to remind you that you’re watching Alice Through the Looking Glass. Really, no one would blame you for forgetting. The book is referenced in glib one-liners, name-checked like a celebrity in a best man’s speech. It boggles the brain, and not in “why is a raven like a writing desk?” kind of way.
Believe it or not, there are parts of the film that are rather good. Sacha Baron Cohen is wonderful as Time, taking on a Werner Herzog-inspired accent that brings an earthy delight to his intricate whirring golden cogs-for-brains. Anne Hathaway, ever vacant, moves with an ethereal grace that’s beautiful to watch, while Alan Rickman’s dulcet tones caress us from beyond the grave in his fleeting appearance as caterpillar-turned-butterfly Absolem – a genuinely moving moment.
The feminist approach to Alice, played by the ever-excellent Mia Wasikowska, is enjoyable too. The film opens as she, captain of her father’s boat Wonder, intrepidly sails her crew through literal dire straits, shortly before crashing a ball dressed in traditional far-Eastern garb, in order to ambush her ex-fiance with a business proposition. That’s one hell of a day at the office.
But for every indulgently beautiful effect, feat of acting or feminist vibe, you’re overrun with disappointment. Alice Through The Looking Glass, so unnecessarily and misguidedly creative in its plot direction, wears its heavy influences very visibly on its sleeve, in a Disney storm of what-do-people-love-nowness. Time’s palace is run by “seconds”, cute little robots that put you in mind of Despicable Me’s minions. His butler has the voice of the meerkat from those insurance ads. The Mad Hatter has a very Bilbo circa Lord of the Rings moment. Even the famous pose of Anna from Frozen, when she is indeed frozen to bits, arm in air, protecting her sister, is echoed by the White Queen.
All in all, it’s a tired old film. Just make sure you take your hip flask to this tea party.