You have to wade through brutal reviews and Internet scorn to find a fan of Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland, but its huge profitability made a sequel inevitable. Although most of the cast is back, Burton has hopped out of the director’s chair to be replaced by The Muppets helmer James Bobin. Bobin has shown that he’s capable of bringing beloved characters to life with joy and mischief, but can he win over the haters?
Those who profoundly hated Burton’s vision probably should and probably will steer clear of Bobin’s follow-up. He’s working from the same visual template (with a bit more Guillermo del Toro), and there’s no drastic shift in the actors’ performances. However, if you enjoyed this world back in 2010, or are at least intrigued by the prospect of a return, then there’s enough here to justify a ticket.
A year has passed since Alice (Mia Wasikowska, still excellent) stopped the Red Queen, and she’s now captain of the Wonderland, the ship that belonged to her late father. When she returns from her daring voyage around the world, she finds that the foppish idiot whose marriage proposal she rejected is now her employer, and that she needs to sell him the ship in order to save her mother’s house.
Raging against the injustice of it all, Alice jumps through the looking glass and into Underland, where she finds the Hatter (Johnny Depp, still doing his thing) in a sorry state. He’s convinced that his murdered parents are somehow still alive, and he’s wasting away as no one believes him. The White Queen (Anne Hathaway) tells Alice to get time-travel device the Chronosphere from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen), but when she’s forced to steal it, Alice risks destroying the future as she races to save her friend.
Bobin doesn’t rock the boat, but he does steady the wheel of a fairly rickety ship. It’s been six years since we last saw Miss Kingsleigh, and it’s great to see that writer Linda Woolverton and Bobin ensure that she’s still the centre of this bustling universe. The film opens as Captain Alice boldly steers her vessel at an impossible angle through jagged rocks and escapes the pursuing enemy. She refuses to be stifled by a society that forces roles and labels onto her (she’s gleefully diagnosed with female hysteria by doctor Andrew Scott), and she’ll do what it takes.
In this case, that means stealing from Time itself, and Cohen is on superb form. As written by Woolverton and played by Cohen, Time isn’t a cartoon villain; he’s a man fulfilling a vital role who’s chasing Alice because she’s putting the whole of Underland at risk. He’s still the funniest character in the film, but his wisdom about the past and the future gives the film its heart and he’s undoubtedly ATTLG’s standout.
However, it’s far from perfect. Once Alice tumbles into Underland, the film’s plodding plotting does not match the delicate way it handles its themes of loss and acceptance. There’s a definite sense of wheels turning rather than wings soaring as our heroine reconnects with her friends, discovers what’s wrong and sets about her mission.
From then on it’s a mixed bag. The plotline involving the young Hatter and his disapproving father (Rhys Ifans, all eyebrows) is much more involving than the history of the Red and White Queens’ conflict, as Hathaway and Bonham Carter’s heavily mannered performances start to grate. Finally, it’s far too long for the substance that’s actually on offer, which starts to feel like it could have been squeezed into a Doctor Who Christmas special. However, Cohen’s performance is excellent, Alice is still a wonderful heroine, the visuals are stunning and there is a beating heart beneath the gloss. If you’re tempted, why not take a trip?