Perhaps it was inevitable that the 2010 box-office success of Alice in Wonderland would yield a follow-up, but Alice Through the Looking Glass is really more of a remake than a sequel.
Despite technically working from different source material — Lewis Carroll wrote two Alice books in the early 19th century — the hollow new film feels like an inferior replica of its predecessor in just about every way, again emphasizing spectacle over storytelling in a way that rarely captures the spirit of the original text.
In this installment, headstrong teenager Alice (Mia Wasikowska) faces a series of personal obstacles before being summoned back to Wonderland, where things aren’t as rosy as she remembered. Her friend, the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), has gone into severe depression over the lack of closure regarding his family, including his hat-making father (Rhys Ifans).
That sets into motion a time-traveling adventure in which Alice must confront the evil Time (Sacha Baron Cohen), whose pun-filled dialogue offers a modest highlight. Time lives in a giant clock, functions as a grim reaper, and holds the key to Alice traveling back to get to the root of the Mad Hatter’s demons.
At the heart of the matter is a conflict between the nefarious Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and the benevolent White Queen (Anne Hathaway) that stems from a petty childhood dispute. Joining Alice are familiar friends including Tweedledee and Tweedledum, a pair of rabbits, and a bloodhound.
The first film, which was directed by Tim Burton, at least had a dazzling sense of visual imagination. This effort is missing that freshness — the use of 3D visual effects is especially mundane — and only occasionally sparks to life (such as in a couple of sequences featuring cool flying contraptions).
The ensemble cast mixing new and familiar faces does its best with subpar material. Wasikowska again is endearing as Alice, while Depp credibly disappears into another of his oddball characters.
This latest menagerie of anthropomorphic mayhem, directed by James Bobin (The Muppets), replaces its sense of whimsy with aggressive sentimentality. The feminist platitudes sprinkled throughout the screenplay by Linda Woolverton (Maleficent) pander to young girls, along with messages about following your dreams and obeying your parents.
The result is more tedious than thrilling. While Alice might be “curiouser and curiouser” regarding her perilous journey, moviegoers likely won’t share her enthusiasm.