Freighted with an overload of gizmos, hardware, and special effects, “Alice Through the Looking Glass” is exhaustingly inventive. This 3-D sequel to Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” directed by James Bobin and written by Linda Woolverton, substitutes technological phantasmagoria for genuine wonderment. Watching it, I felt like I was viewing the piece-by-piece construction of a gigantic mechanical contraption. It’s an achievement of sorts, but it's worlds away from the poignant lunacy of the Lewis Carroll books, which, except for a few of its cast of characters, this behemoth in no way resembles.
As in Burton’s movie, which was a surprise, billion-dollar-grossing smash hit, the new film features Mia Wasikowska as Alice and Johnny Depp as her dearest friend, the Mad Hatter. Alice is now a buccaneering ship’s captain and the Hatter is deeply depressed about his missing family. To rescue him, she ventures back to Underland and has a confab with Time himself, plummily played by Sacha Baron Cohen in an accent that could perhaps best be described as Austro-Yiddish. His Chronosphere enables Alice to travel back to the Hatter’s childhood and attempt to undo the bad times.
There are other, parallel subplots, including a sibling smackdown between Anne Hathaway’s chalk-white queen and Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen, as amusingly feral as ever. Because Burton didn’t direct (though he remains a co-producer), the film isn’t as icky-Gothic as its predecessor, and Depp, in a too-small role, has a touching fragility. But the only heartfelt moment of this movie for me came in the end credits, with its dedication to the late Alan Rickman, who provided the voice for the blue butterfly (and former caterpillar) Absolem. What a voice, what an actor, what a loss. Grade: B- (Rated PG for fantasy action/peril and some language.)