Nothing is sacred anymore, but there really should be limits — even for Disney. “Alice Through the Looking Glass” is the sequel to Tim Burton’s somewhat disastrous “Alice in Wonderland” (2010), which is where they really should have drawn the line. I regret to report that things in Wonderland have gotten considerably worse since Alice’s last excursion down the rabbit hole. Lewis Carroll, who is credited here as one of the writers (the other is Disney’s prolific in-house scribe Linda Woolverton), is likely turning over in his grave to look for a stiff drink.

Between director James Bobin and Woolverton, almost every trace of Carroll’s original story has been burned to the ground. In its place is a plot of female empowerment themes and fairy-tale whimsy gone berserk. The result is a raucous, bubbling cauldron of confusion. My guess is that the higher powers at Disney decided it was time for a new line of “Alice” merchandise, Disneyland rides and attractions, so they approached Woolverton for something that would match their goodies.

There’s something terribly awry about this “Alice,” and you can see it from the very beginning. The titular heroine (Mia Wasikowska), who at 19 years old in the 2010 “Wonderland” was trying to dodge a marriage proposal, has now matured into a young woman with a full-fledged career as a sea captain. She even fights pirates in a sequence that could have been ripped straight out of a “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise.

Alice Through the Looking Glass (Alice in Wandarando / Jikan no Tabi)
Run Time 113 mins
Language English
Opens July 1

Sea captain is a rarity for women today, let alone in the late 19th century, but this is not the kind of film that explores female power; rather, it takes advantage of the luxury of fantasy and simply accepts it as a matter of course. Back on land after a triumphant voyage, however, Alice discovers that her father’s business has gone under and she loses her ship to creditors. Devastated by the harshness of her “real world,” Alice seeks solace in Wonderland, where her old friends are faring just as she remembered them.

That is with the exception of the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), who she hears is in the throes of depressed madness because he believes his family, who were killed by Jabberwockys under orders of the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), are, in fact, still alive, but no one will help him find them. The queen, it appears, is up to her old tricks and on her classic “Off with their heads!” tirade. Alice, professing that “the Hatter is my greatest friend,” decides to save his family by traveling back in time to prevent their deaths. But to do this, she must confront Time himself (Sasha Baron Cohen). Unfortunately, Baron Cohen turns out to be another annoying presence in an already overcrowded movie.

What did work for Burton’s 2010 movie was the 3-D. Back then, it was a fresh, intriguing piece of technology that promised to enhance the cinema experience to unprecedented heights. Six years later, though, audiences are aware of how taxing 3-D can be on the nerves, especially when every single frame is chock-a-block with distracting stuff, as “Through the Looking Glass” is. The visuals probably should have taken several leaves out of Marie Kondo’s de-cluttering book — whatever doesn’t spark joy should have been trashed. Watching this is a bit like finding yourself in the house of a hoarder with a penchant for colorful play dough. Even Kyary Pamyu Pamyu would find it a bit much.

Carroll brilliantly wove veiled commentary about gender inequality and social satire into the narrative of a fantastical children’s story. Alice asserted herself in the company of snide aristocrats and the Red Queen amid depictions of restrictive Victorian education and society. The mourning of childhood in the face of impending adulthood as the real world encroaches gave the novel a depth and nuance desperately missing from this “Alice Through the Looking Glass.” But I suppose Disney rides and attractions don’t need all that.

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