Walt Disney Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Grade: B-
Director:  James Bobin
Written by: Linda Woolverton from Lewis Carroll’s books
Cast: Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Mia Wasikowska, Sacha Baron Cohen
Screened at: AMC Empire, NYC, 5/23/16
Opens: May 27, 2016

If Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, had an erotic interest in little girls as Morton N. Cohen’s book Lewis Carroll: A Biography and Donald Thomas’s Lewis Carroll: A Portrait with Background—both suggesting that the author’s sexual energies sought unconventional outlets—we wonder what Lewis Carroll would think of Mia Wasikowska in the role of Alice Kingsleigh.  The lovely Australian-born Ms. Wasikowska may be an unusual choice to play Alice, who in the novel is ten years old, so the author might be intimidated by the twenty-six-year old Wasikowska.

Linda Woolverton, who ironed out a script for “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” appears to use the novels as an inspiration but is hardly putting the words into cinematic language except with a broad pencil.  And James Bobin, whose chief directorial activity before this was the 2011 movie “The Muppets,” in which the title characters are challenged by an oil mogul, keeps the 113-film moving along.

You can’t fault the picture for eye candy. Consider production design, make-up, effects and costumes.  And those are the features that are bound to attract an audience.  Nonetheless, what’s most important in most movies are the stories. Maybe you have to be a small fry to understand what’s going on here, because for me the movie lacks narrative coherence.  I had an easier time understanding Alain Resnais’ “Last Year at Marienbad.”  Still, this “Alice” is wondrous to behold but not so much to comprehend.

The story’s motivation is out front.  When Alice (Mia Wasikowska) sees that something is wrong with the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), who seems nuttier than usual thanks to some trauma in his past and who may be about the depart from this world, she asks the personified Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) to send her back in time to fix what’s bothering him.  She  borrows the Chronosphere, sought as well by the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), which allows Alice go through a looking glass and back to the past.  She cannot change the past but she can learn from it (unlike most of us), and in the course of her travels she runs into a plethora of characters, none of whom are particularly interesting.

Johnny Depp is in his usual, hard to recognize element as the Mad Hatter (I preferred him a lot more as the similarly unrecognizable James Whitey Bulgar in “Black Mass”).  He wears a big orange rug on his head and resembles a clown with big eyes and an abundance of fake lashes, all of which must have required him to hang out with the make-up crew for hours each day.  His madness appears the result of a family death in a Jabberwocky event.  Likewise made-up with some fancy effects are Tweedledee/Tweedleum (both played by Matt Lucas), the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), the flying Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).

And…that’s about where the story becomes convoluted and ultimately not particularly worth the trouble.  There’s something about Alice’s role as the captain of a ship attacked by pirates, which opens the movie with a bang or two, and an effort by Alice’s former boyfriend Hamish (Leo Bill—who looks a lot like this film’s director) to take over that ship.  Ultimately, Alice is an icon of female empowerment as she enjoins her mother Helen (Lindsay Duncan) from selling the ship, which would have forced Alice to be a clerk, more suitable for women than that of a skipper.

Rated PG.  113 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – B
Technical –A
Overall – B-

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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