3 stars. Rated PG, for fantasy peril
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 5.27.16
This film conclusively demonstrates that it’s extremely difficult — if not impossible — to replicate Tim Burton’s signature brand of whimsy.
|Mere moments after having traveled through the looking-glass, Alice (Mia Wasikowska)|
clumsily triggers a crisis that "all the king's horses, and all the king's men" will have to
repair. Which is par for the course, for this film's dim-bulb Alice.
It’s not merely a matter of Burton’s directorial finesse; he’s also a shrewd judge of source material, and how it should be shaped. Either he carefully selects equally talented screenwriters, or he’s actively involved in how a script reaches its final draft; either way, the result — time and again — is weirdly droll, oddly endearing and invariably, if improbably, entertaining.
And — here’s the important part — meticulously structured, and consistent within its own fantasy universe.
None of which can be said about Alice Through the Looking Glass. Linda Woolverton’s script is a mess; her slapdash plot begs, borrows and steals from sources as varied as H.G. Wells, Frozen and the Back to the Future trilogy.
James Bobin’s direction is uninspired and lifeless. Somebody apparently thought he’d be right for the job, on the basis of his having helmed the two most recent Muppets movies. At the risk of stating the obvious, human characters need more directorial guidance than Muppets, who get most of their personality from their unseen “muppeteers.” Alice (Mia Wasikowska) and her various co-stars get very little guidance here.
Granted, this sequel to Burton’s Alice in Wonderland looks equally fabulous. Dan Hennah’s production design is opulent, imaginative and richly colorful: no surprise, as he’s a veteran of all three Hobbit chapters. Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood is a carryover from the first Alice, and her efforts here are equally creative, often amusing and sometimes flat-out beautiful; Alice’s kimono-style outfit is particularly fetching.
And, yes, the special effects are excellent, if overused ... and that’s part of the problem. As just one example, Bobin wastes an awful lot of screen footage with repeated sequences of Alice sailing through the “oceans of time,” and repetition does not make such journeys more interesting. Quite the opposite.