Early in Alice Through the Looking Glass, the unfortunate and unnecessary sequel to 2010's Alice in Wonderland, Humpty Dumpty takes a tumble from a table and smashes into dozens of pieces on the floor. Someone snickers that he's not as cracked up as he thinks he is. The same can be said of the brightly colored but dull picture the clumsy egghead finds himself in.
After Tim Burton's 2010 feature racked in more than $1 billion at the global box office, a sequel was a no-brainer for the bean counters at Disney. No wonder there. The mystery is that it took six years to get the follow-up into theaters and that with so much time between films that the new one is so bland. To be sure, the plethora of CGI-generated visuals are stunning, but since they are forced to prop up such a thin, sluggish story they, too, lose their wonder after a while. They are too much and not enough all at the same time.
Alice's adventure, such as it is, begins on the high seas in 1874 with the plucky Alice (Mia Wasikowska, doing her darnedest in a nothing role) captaining her late father's ship and narrowly escaping pirates. Upon returning home to London, she learns her mother (Lindsay Duncan) has mortgaged the family estate and that her former embittered fiancé Lord Ascot (Leo Bill) is scheming to take over her dad's beloved vessel. But then a blue butterfly (voiced by the late Alan Rickman, to whom the movie is dedicated) persuades her to step through a looking glass that literally drops her back into Underland, where she is reunited with all of her old friends, including Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the Dormouse, and the White Queen (a blank Anne Hathaway). It's then Alice learns that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp, hammy as always) has turned into a sad Hatter because he believes his family, thought to have been killed by a monstrous Jabberwock, is still alive. But he doesn't know where they could be and pleads with Alice to find them.
To accomplish her mission, Alice steps into yet another dimension to steal the Chronosphere, a time-traveling device, from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) himself, a half-human, half-clock demigod, who is smitten with the evil, bigheaded Red Queen (scenery chewing Helena Bonham Carter). As Alice travels into the past, we learn why the fiery Red Queen is so mean (as if anyone cares) and why she holds the key to discovering the fate of the Hightopp family.
One of the chief problems with Alice Through the Looking Glass is that, aside from its characters, the story has nothing to do with Lewis Carroll's beloved tales. Screenwriter Linda Woolverton has weaved the thinnest of yarns out of whole cloth and plopped Carroll's cherished creations into it. It's a "fine, that'll do" sort of effort that feels unfinished. A couple of more drafts would perhaps have given the proceedings more nuance and ironed out some inconsistencies. Worst of all, a wrongheaded ending makes Alice's brave efforts meaningless.
Kids will, no doubt, find the overstuffed phantasmagoria fascinating, but more discerning moviegoers will likely wish they had their own Chronosphere so they could leap into the past a couple of hours and prevent themselves from buying tickets. Ironically, the film's main theme is that every second is precious, so don't waste any. Good advice. Skip this timewaster.