This movie is late, late for a very important date for its own end.
Look, I’m not a big fan of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland from a few years back, partly because it was mostly the Burton weird aesthetic and nothing meaty to hang on to and partly because the characters made me want to rub my face off with a cheese grater because I was so fucking grated. So you’ll be surprised to know I didn’t absolutely hate the Burton-less sequel…but (and there ALWAYS a but)…
So we got Alice returning to England from her voyage around the world that began at the end of the last movie. But since her mother’s been forced to sell their family home to the guy Alice turned down in the last movie, said asshole is also threatening to keep the home forever unless Alice takes up a desk job “like a woman should.” Feminist Alice says fuck that and runs off to be by herself when she’s called back into Wonderland (sorry, “Underland” because Burton thought he was clever) because the Mad Hatter is all depressed. Said depression has arisen because the Hatter (Johnny Depp in another stupid voice and hat) believes that his family is still alive even though everyone believed they died. To help her friend, Alice spends the movie consoling him and rehabilitating him…nah just fucking with you, she gets the great idea to consult Time itself (played by Sacha Baron Cohen) to get a time machine to save the Hatter. You know, something totally reasonable for a chick who clearly has her head screwed on straight.
Look, at least Alice feels more like a character in this movie as opposed to the bumbling doofus she was in the last movie, but she really is not fun to be around. Her entire shtick is that “she’s different” and that defines as an “independent woman.” That’s about it, and it’s not enough to follow someone who allegedly has their wits about them and proceeds to do every nonsensical act you could think of.
See, she asks Time to allow her to go back into the past to find out what happened to the Hatter’s family. But when he tells her to fuck off, she steals the device that let’s her travel through time and proceeds to attempt altering events in the past AFTER she was explicitly warned that doing so would be a fucking terrible idea.
The other big problem with Alice (and her world by extension) is that this movie implies that Wonderland is an extension of her psyche. Now some artists have explored this avenue of Lewis Carroll’s fiction (because it’s so much easier than considering it as a love letter to an underage girl), most notably in games called American McGee’s Alice and Alice: Madness Returns. Both games told the story of Alice in Wonderland through the lens that Wonderland is all happy and cheery when Alice is in her innocent child state but contorts to a twisted nightmare version of itself when Alice deals with major PTSD from horrible events that have occurred in her life (like losing her parents in a fire or being pursued by a pedophile). It’s pretty grim shit, that was no less interesting because it demonstrated an interesting vision of Wonderland.
These Disney Alice movies don’t provide any interesting vision aside visuals, and yes the two are completely different. Visuals are just vistas and character designs that look different and unique, but that’s all there is to it. It’s all flash and no substance. Vision is all about coming up with an interesting interpretation of the story being presented. And these movies, primarily the first one, lack any unique vision whatsoever.
In the last movie, Wonderland was a place where Alice learned to become more independent by…depending on the words of strangers she didn’t remember and believing their words of prophecy involving her. At least for the sequel, Alice learns the concept of time is not something to be dreaded but to be respected and appreciated. It’s a nice message that the film does its best to sabotage with its bizarre detours in following the uninteresting inhabitants of Wonderland.
The annoying computer generated characters all make a return from the last movie in addition to Anne Hathaway’s hippie White Queen, Helena Bonham Carter’s angry Red Queen, and the aforementioned Johnny Depp’s Hatter. Speaking of which, it’s kind of odd that Hathaway and Depp get first and selling billing in this movie before Alice gets to show her face, though ironically you less of them here than the last movie.
Really this is primarily between Cohen’s Time and Alice fucking around with Time. To Cohen’s credit, he does quite a bit with a unique character that wasn’t even in any of Carroll’s stories and manages to give some depth and humor to something that’s basically a God in this world. And like I said, Mia Wasikowska does add a little something to her character compared to her last outing.
But I genuinely enjoyed their interplay more than when we had to go back to the other characters. The Red Queen is only around to serve as an antagonist, because having a interesting discussion about accepting the past was apparently too boring for the new director, and she does the loud yelling shtick Carter did last time. Meanwhile, Depp gets to act “eccentric” which here means acting like a fucking clown.
Of all of Depp’s offbeat characters, the Hatter is my second most hated if only because the Tonto one was too goddamn racist. The Hatter just switches accents from scene (because he’s “mad” you see, isn’t it so goddamn clever?) but he irritates more than he contributes to the story in any meaningful way aside from acting like a plot device.
Mercifully, I didn’t have to deal with him too long as Alice was a bit preoccupied with the time travel shenanigans. After leaving the theater, I disliked the plot initially but I’ve come around to thinking it’s alright and pretty inoffensive.
That’s probably the worst thing about this movie: it’s not horrible like the last movie for me to rag on it incessantly, but it fails to engage me at all. I think the biggest problem with this Disney version of Alice is that Wonderland is just TOO logical. The original book and the original 1951 Disney animation gave you the “wonder” in Wonderland because of how trippy everything appeared. One minute Alice was talking to flowers, the next she was manipulating her size, and she wound up playing croquet against a psychotic queen using live flamingos. That sentence right there is more absurd than anything that happens in this movie, and there’s the rub.
This new version of Wonderland doesn’t feel absurd at all. It feels more like an odd fantasy realm that has a few “rules” everybody follows, kind of like the live action show on Disney Channel back in the 90s (remember that shit?). Wonderland should feel like I’m experiencing an acid trip, where there are no rules and anything is possible. Or at the least it could be the manifestation of Alice’s own subconscious fucking with her.
Just give me something more exciting than this big ol’ pile of “meh.” I think kids will enjoy this fine enough, but if you can avoid the theaters, try Netflix in a few months instead. This is a middling…