Sometimes an explosion of eye candy can hit the right spot, as was mostly the case in the 2010 Tim Burton blockbuster. Alice in Wonderland. But the magic is missing in this sequel, as is Burton, replaced in the director’s chair by James Bobin (Most Wanted Muppets). The most sought after here is the easy charm to counter the hard sell. Everything is too much, which makes the film look like Willy Wonka vomited all over his chocolate factory. Linda Woolverton’s screenplay remains true to the surface characters created by Lewis Carroll, but the film has lost its soul.
Mia Wasikowska returns as Alice, now a ship captain eager to defeat pirates. She dragged kicks and screams in London to assert her Victorian-era feminist agenda by saving her mother’s livelihood and breaking the balls (well, almost) of a wicked former suitor (Leo Bill ) which makes life hell for mom. Alice also finds time to jump through a mirror and return to Wonderland.
The gang is there, including Tweedledee / Tweedledum (Matt Lucas), the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway). The late Alan Rickman, to whom the film is dedicated, expresses the caterpillar turned butterfly Absolem with the spirit and resonance that have marked his artistic career. But Alice’s main concern is her friend the Hatter, once again played by Johnny Depp, who makes eccentric insanity as natural as breathing. The Hatter, you see, is not himself. He dies of sadness, ravaged by guilt that he and not the evil giant-headed red queen (the ever-delicious Helena Bonham Carter) is responsible for the deaths of his family.
What to do? Alice must go back in time in a time machine stolen from Time itself, in the person of a frenzied Sacha Baron Cohen, and fix things. Bobin spins the plot gears relentlessly and monotonously. The actors, with the exception of Depp and Bonham Carter – for whom surrealism seems like a second home – just go through the gestures. As Lewis Carroll should have said: Efficiency is no substitute for enchantment.