Directed by James Bobin
Disney, out now
Alice is back…
Belatedly turning up six years after Alice in Wonderland, this is one of those sequels that no one was actually waiting for, and after all this time, assumed that the moment had passed. As it is, the intervening years have allowed Mia Wasikowsa’s Alice to mature from young girl to feisty woman; the original Katniss Everdeen if you like. Having returned from a perilous journey round the world (a wonderful opening scene with pirate ships and high-sea jeopardy) Alice finds that her mother has given up the house and she herself is fated to life as an office clerk. But it’s not long before she’s entered a fantasy world, this time via the titular mirror rather than down a rabbit hole, and fights to save the Mad Hatter, who has lost the will to live.
This time round it’s The Muppets’ James Bobin at the helm rather than Tim Burton, though you’d hardly notice, as all the Burton touches that were established in the first movie are carried forwards here. And that, in many ways, is one of the movie’s greatest weaknesses. What didn’t work last time round still fails to engage, and in so many ways it’s a case of more of the same. Johnny Depp’s man-child Mad Hatter is still irritating and miscast, while there’s a strange obsession in seemingly shoehorning in every single character from the predecessor. On the upside, production design is still first-rate, and Danny Elfman’s score is gorgeous, developing themes from Wonderland and tricking us into thinking this is still a Tim Burton film.
Sacha Baron Cohen is surprisingly good fun as Time, a pompous Oz-like tyrant who eventually reveals himself to be a better person. His irritation at the slew of time-related puns and gags thrown at him is a running joke throughout the movie. Also new is the introduction of time travel, as Alice has a portable time machine – she throws it like a Pokemon ball – and allows us to see the origins of the Mad Hatter, White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham-Carter).
Screenwriter Linda Woolverton, as she did with Maleficent, uses this as an opportunity to explain why the Queen is so bad, and why the Hatter is mad. Hollywood really needs to drop this mania of justifying the evil behaviour of its villains – sometimes the mystery is enough. And of course what Hollywood movie would be complete without a character having daddy issues?
But moans aside, it’s a sumptuous-looking film that cracks along at a fair old rate. If you didn’t like the first one, there’s nothing here that will change your outlook. But if you want a rush of Disney fun, supported by the crème de la crème of British acting talent, this is an engaging way to spend a couple of hours. And, judging by the week that Depp appears to have had, he’s probably wishing that he was still down a rabbit hole or on the other side of the mirror.
Verdict: Disney’s live-action version of the continuing adventures of Lewis Carroll’s heroine continues to enchant, while those looking for a faithful adaptation of the book on which this purports to be based might be sorely disappointed. 6/10