“Alice Through the Looking Glass” is the stagnant, mirthless sequel to “Alice in Wonderland,” the garish live-action Disney film that was itself a sequel to, um, “Alice in Wonderland.” (It’s been six years and I’m still annoyed by that.) Obviously, the new sequel is about the Mad Hatter’s and the Queen of Hearts’ childhoods, as Hollywood inches toward its goal of exploring the backstory of every fictional character ever invented.
“ATTLG,” as the kids probably call it, has Alice (Mia Wasikowska) pausing in her career as a sea captain (?) to return to Wonderland again, this time via a mirror in a random room of the house of the doofus she was supposed to marry in the last film (but didn’t). She’s needed because the Mad Hatter (ugh, Johnny Depp) has become the Sad Hatter, depressed over the death of his family at the claws of the Jabberwocky some years ago.
Well, no: actually, he’s depressed because he has found a piece of evidence suggesting his family is still alive, but no one believes it. Alice doesn’t believe it, either, so instead of setting out to find the missing hatter family like the Hatter wants her to, she sets out to steal a time machine from Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen) so she can go back in time and prevent their deaths.
But THEN, while she’s working on that mission, she decides she needs to go back FURTHER in time and prevent the incident that turned the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) wicked and drove a wedge between her and her sister (Anne Hathaway). (It involves tarts, and the Red Queen is the victim, so you have to feel sorry for her now.) The whole time, Time is chasing Alice through time, lest she screw something up permanently. This is a real and valid fear, and one Alice didn’t really consider because all she wanted to do is help the Mad Hatter. “Hatter is my truest friend!” she says, either lying or delusional. Her TRUEST FRIEND? She hung out with him for a couple days a few years ago, and once many years before that in what she thought was a dream. I grant you that the life of a sea captain (?) is a lonely one, but come on.
Anyway, the whole exhausting thing is predicated on the baseless assumption that the Mad Hatter is not thoroughly irritating, and that “Alice in Wonderland” fans are interested in seeing melodramatic vignettes in which younger versions of the story’s ancillary characters disappoint their families. Speaking of non-Alice characters, several other Wonderland denizens return for this outing — the Tweedle twins, the Cheshire cat, the White Rabbit, the mouse from the teapot, a dog I don’t remember — but none of them have anything to do, so they just hang around the movie like they’re its entourage.
The director this time is James Bobin (“The Muppets”), with the screenplay again credited to Disney veteran Linda Woolverton. It’s packed with double-talk, rhymes, and other nonsense meant to conjure Lewis Carroll, but it’s witless, unfunny nonsense, not the clever stuff. And it’s set in a hollow world of such elaborate, soulless whimsy that the silliness soon becomes a tedious nightmare. Sure, it’s marvelous to look at. Good thing, since you’re looking at it for what feels like an eternity.
D (1 hr., 53 min.; )