Alice Through the Looking Glass arrives in theaters as an effects-laden, visually dense extravaganza that feels more like a wild-and-crazy theme park ride than a trip to Wonderland.
Director James Bobin (Muppets Most Wanted) takes over from Tim Burton, who made his version of Alice in Wonderland six years ago. Simply put: Burton's movie -- though no masterpiece -- was better.
Familiar characters emerge from Bobin's galaxy of imaginative sets, bizarre costumes and dizzying action. But this time, the appearance of old favorites generates little by way of fond recall.
When we first meet her, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is a skilled sea captain who loses her father's ship to a greedy fleet owner. An unhappy Alice then walks through the famous Looking Glass.
Once she enters this alternate reality, Alice learns that she must travel through time in order to help save The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp). The Hatter, poor fellow, has fallen into a near-terminal funk as the result of having lost his family.
Alice also meets Time (Sacha Baron Cohen), a character who controls something called a Chronosphere, a spinning globe into which Alice climbs so that she's able to go back in time, perhaps to repair past wrongs. Mostly, it's an excuse for a screenful of summer-time action.
The movie holds two queens in its hand -- the White Queen (a pasty-looking Anne Hathaway) and the Red Queen (an arch Helena Bonham Carter). Enmity between the queens traces back to their childhoods, in case you've been longing to know why they never seem to be able to get along.
If someone told you that Bonham Carter, under the customary ton of makeup, was really a very large toy, you might believe it. More than others who suffer the same fate, Bonham Carter has an air of China-doll unreality about her.
As for Depp, his silly ramblings as the Hatter made me again wish that he'd once and for all leave childhood films behind.
I could say more, but all I'll tell you is that the amusements are skimpy, the sights overwhelming and the whole business seems to have lost the heady, mind-warping spin of Lewis G. Carroll.
In short: Big production, small yield. In 3D, of course.