Johnny Depp is having a bad week.
Just a few days ago, Depp's 81-year-old mother passed away.
Two days later, Depp's wife of a mere 15 months, Amber Heard, filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences. To make matters worse, Heard out claims of domestic abuse and alleged pictorial proof of such abuse.
To be certain, the loss of one's mother and dissolution of one's marriage can't begin to be measured up to by something as relatively trivial as cinematic entertainment even if it does happen to be big budget entertainment that pretty much depends upon the whimsical presence of one of Hollywood's most long beloved entertainers.
Let's be honest. It's pretty hard to think whimsical when you're looking at Heard's bruised face. Now then, Depp may be, and hopefully is, perfectly innocent but it's hard not to contemplate all of this heaviness as one enters the James Bobin directed world of Alice Through the Looking Glass, a cinematic underland that is missing the wonder of it all.
I seriously contemplated the question "How can I write about Alice Through the Looking Glass without having to actually thinking about it again?"
Oh sure, I know that many Americans will spend this three-day holiday weekend of remembrances devouring such escapist fare as Looking Glass and the latest X-Men flick, but I think the only thing that could save either film is if we could actually mold their universes together and have the Mad Hatter BE the Apocalypse.
Yeah, I would pay to see that one. This one? Not so much.
While Lewis Carroll gets credit for writing the book upon which Alice Through the Looking Glass is based, the characters are his after all, the truth is Alice Through the Looking Glass feels like a Disney mash-up of its greatest hits set in the 19th century world of Carroll's beloved characters.
This film is directed by James Bobin, who helmed the last two Muppet films, though Tim Burton's presence remains strong as producer and simply in the stylings of the film courtesy of returning art director Todd Cherniawsky.
Alice Through the Looking Glass is less quirky than its predecessor, a fact that is likely to please those who felt the film possessed quirk for the sake of quirk. To replace that quirk, however, Bobin appears to have infused the film with a simplified, or maybe I should call it Muppified, sensibility. There's no real complexity here. There are no significant layers, though there are certainly elements of emotional honesty. Instead, Alice Through the Looking Glass feels like a more paint-by-numbers adventure, perhaps more mass audience friendly yet significantly less interesting and less involving. This feels like the Disney that I'd hoped had been left behind, a Disney more consumed by profits than creative integrity.
The Mad Hatter (Depp) is here again, this time center stage, despite not actually appearing in Carroll's follow-up novel. At all. Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is summoned back to what is now referred to as Underland (What? Did the long dead Carroll protest from the grave?) by Absolem (Alan Rickman, doing voiceover work in what was his final role) to intervene on behalf of the desperately depressed Mad Hatter, whose family had been killed by Jabberwocky. Alice's answer to the dilemma involves time travel utilizing the steampunkish Chronosphere possessed by one Time (Sacha Baron Cohen), whose minions, 'er minutes, may bring to mind another certain beloved and very commercial character in contemporary animation.
Helena Bonham Carter's Red Queen is still here doing the sibling rivalry thing with the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), though her "I'm a bitter queen" origin story is one storyline too much for a film that is overwhelming without justification.
Wasikowska seems disinterested here, though that may very well because the talented actress realized a film with her name in the title had lengthy periods without her actually in it. Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway are perfectly fine, though their muchness is in need of much, much more. Then, there is Depp. Depp seems to always return to quirky when his delving into actual acting has failed yet again.
That happens a lot lately.
While Depp's turn as Whitey Bulger last year earned critical praise, it was lost in a largely uneven film amidst a year when quality performances were plentiful. Since few people actually saw the film, it didn't hurt Depp's reputation but it sure didn't open the door to Depp's return to more grounded cinematic efforts.
Danny Elfman, usually dependable with his original scores, goes for all out whimsy with this overbearing effort. The film's CGI is best described as gaudy and, once again, rather overwhelming. There's immersion, which is desired in this kind of CGI-laden fare, then there's being smothered by it all. This film smothers.
As someone who actually was a fan of Burton's Alice in Wonderland, it feels like Bobin has tried to balance both his directorial sensibilties with Burton's own vision for the film and, for the most part, he has failed. There will be an audience for Alice Through the Looking Glass, but it's unlikely to include Carroll devotees and it most assuredly does not include me.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic