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'Alice Through the Looking Glass': Without Tim Burton, it's a woozy, snoozy mess

Heaven bless and preserve Hollywood fabulist Tim Burton and his delightfully twisted creative genius.

Heaven bless and preserve Hollywood fabulist Tim Burton and his delightfully twisted creative genius.

If ever there was a filmmaker born to adapt Lewis Carroll's Alice stories, Burton is it. And he tried, he really did, to bring us a wondrous work with his deeply flawed 2010 entry Alice in Wonderland.

To hardcore Burton fans, it wasn't good enough, marred by (among other things) a ludicrous turn by Johnny Depp as a Mad Hatter more fit for Bedlam than Wonderland. But the picture made $1.025 billion, convincing Walt Disney Studios it had the makings of a winning new franchise.

Half a dozen years later, we have the first sequel. And I'm sorry to say that Alice Through the Looking Glass, directed by relative newcomer James Bobin (The Muppets), is a dull, formulaic theme-park ride whose only purpose is to make more pots of money.

Looking Glass reunites most of the original cast, incuding Mia Wasikowska as Alice, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Anne Hathaway as the flighty White Queen, and Helena Bonham Carter as the perpetually enraged Red Queen. They are joined by Sacha Baron Cohen as Time - yes, Time, the tick-tocking dude himself.

For all its faults, Burton's film was a painterly treat that used digital effects to create a rich, textured world ripe for discovery. It was about a Victorian teen who gets to explore a fantastical new world where she meets exotic creatures and crazy characters.

Looking Glass refigures Carroll's characters as action heroes, plunging them into an absurd sci-fi adventure story right out of Doctor Who. You see, Mad Hatter is going mad (even madder, I guess) because he's convinced that his family, who were supposedly killed by the Jabberwocky, are still alive.

Eager to help her friends, Alice steals Time's time machine so she can find out what really happened to Hatter's kin.

Cohen, the film's only bright spot, delivers a wacky turn as a mildly mad deity in charge of making sure the temporal flow continues smoothly. Time travel would ruin everything he's built, so he hops on another time machine and goes chasing after Alice.

Looking Glass tries to simulate excitement by speeding up the action, the music, and the tempo and ratcheting up the CGI, transforming the gorgeous tableaus created by Burton into a dizzying perpetual-motion onslaught.

But behind all the chases and the battles in Alice Through the Looking Glass, behind the conflicts and the bravado, there beats a hollow heart.


Alice Through the Looking Glass

1 1/2 (Out of four stars)

Running time: 1 hour, 45 mins.

Parent's guide: PG (fantasy action/peril and some crude language).

Playing at: Area theaters.