Bearing little resemblance to Lewis Carroll’s literary sequel, this live-action fantasy begins in 1874 with Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) as an intrepid sea captain, cleverly evading pirates en route back to London – as though she’d been taught by Capt. Jack Sparrow. Arriving home, Alice must choose between losing the Wonder, her late father’s merchant vessel, or leaving her widowed mother (Lindsay Duncan) homeless. Familial business dealings grow tedious until the familiar blue butterfly, Absolem (voiced by Alan Rickman), leads Alice through a large mirror…a.k.a. Looking Glass. Read on…
Back in Underland, Alice finds her eccentric friend, the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), deeply depressed, mourning the loss of his Hightopp family. If she can travel back through the “Sea of Time,” Alice might be able to save them from the Jabberwocky, but that involves stealing the whirling Chronosphere belonging to Time (mustache-twirling Sacha Baron Cohen).
That cues a myriad of verbal and visual gags about the nature of time. Seconds are tiny mechanical creatures that turn into larger minutes as “Time waits for no man” and “Time is not on your side.”
As part of her quest, Alice discovers how a sinister childhood deception triggered the huge-headed Red Queen’s (Helena Bonham Carter) petulant anger toward her sister, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).
While screenwriter Linda Woolverton (“Maleficent”) has endeavored to create backstories for many of Lewis Carroll’s classic characters – with a nod to Victorian-era feminism, James Bobin (“The Muppets”), taking over from Tim Burton as director, injects too many steampunk distractions from the implausible, incoherent plot.
Tilting a bit too far toward the bizarre, Johnny Depp, his pupils dilated to psychedelic proportions, is almost unrecognizable under creepy clown makeup, topped with a shock of orange hair.
But the lavish, candy-colored CGI visuals are dazzling, particularly glimpses of Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas voices both), White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen) and Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry).
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Alice Through the Looking Glass” is a curiously confusing, simplistic 6, an expensive extravaganza.