It all started with a mouse, but when it comes to Disney’s never-ending slate of live action remakes mining its own animated classics for inspiration, it all started with Alice.
Tim Burton‘s re-imagining of the classic Wonderland story was the beneficiary of impeccable timing. Arriving in theaters just a few months after the earth-shattering AVATAR, Alice was the next major film to be marketed as a must-see in 3D. The trip on Jake Sully’s coattails brought Alice to a worldwide gross exceeding a billion dollars, far exceeding the expectations of just about, well… everyone.
It wasn’t a bad movie, but it didn’t exactly stick. Other than inspiring the long running MAD T PARTY at Disney California Adventure and a hedge maze in Shanghai Disneyland, the 2010 film was a pleasant diversion that didn’t make a lasting cultural impression. But it did get the wheels turning at Disney as to which animated films would spin box office gold next.
And now, six years later, Alice has been joined at the multiplex by Maleficent, Cinderella, and The Jungle Book. Soon Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo, Mulan and sundry others will soldier through to capitalize on decades of goodwill.
Alice made so much money that no self-respecting Hollywood executive would let a sequel pass by unmade, so here we are! ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS features the returning talents of writer Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast, Maleficent), but Burton has assumed the role of Executive Producer with James Bobin (The Muppets) taking the directing reins. The entire cast returns, with just a few lines delivered by the late, great Alan Rickman. Regrettably, this is Rickman’s last film and a touching dedication appears to him in the film’s credits.
The first third of the film wasn’t promising. The Hatter has fallen ill for the most dubious of reasons, and Alice is summoned back to (W)Underland through a looking glass to help. Her mission takes her to the castle of Time himself (played by the scenery chewing Sascha Baron Cohen), who possesses the only tool she can use to save the Hatter.
Functioning more as a prequel than a sequel, the film relives moments in Underland’s history that explain how the Hatter came to be alone and how the Red Queen went from innocent princess to a guillotine-crazed tyrant. But will Alice save the Hatter, save Underland, save Time himself? (If you don’t know the answer to that question, I can’t help you)
Mia Wasikowska does a fine job as Alice, who is inherently the least interesting character on screen whenever she visits Wonderland, or Underland, or whatever they call it. Johnny Depp cashes a large check as the Hatter, but explores the character further here than he did in the previous installment. Anne Hathaway remains fluttery and bizarre (in a good way) as the White Queen, and Helena Bonham Carter manages to project human emotion through her giant CGI-enhanced head.
Despite a rocky start, Woolverton’s script goes from perfunctory to heartfelt, even impressive by its finale. Girl power overflows, with Alice bucking tradition both at home and abroad. The final morals of Alice’s tale aren’t beaten into the head of the viewer, and they might even make people think. That’s what a good movie should do, right?
The press was treated to this film in glorious IMAX 3D, and while many films are just as well enjoyed in 2D, this isn’t one of them. Like The Jungle Book, this film is almost entirely computer animated in stunning fashion and benefits greatly from the depth and clarity of 3D.
2016 has been Disney’s year at the box office. A string of unstoppable hits – Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Zootopia, The Jungle Book, and Captain America: Civil War – have propelled the Mouse House to record-breaking heights. While I’m not sure if Alice can become a billionaire twice, she’d be the first to tell us that nothing’s impossible. And if she doesn’t, Dory will be along next month to print more money.
See ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood for phenomenal Dolby Vision 3D projection and an exclusive up-close look at props and costumes from the movie’s production.
ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS lands in theaters May 27, 2016!