Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns home from an expedition on her father’s ship to discover that her mother (Lindsay Duncan) is close to selling the aforementioned vessel. On offer for Alice is a monotonous vocation free of adventure, and so she escapes back into the world of Wonderland, though she’s met by a despondent Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), convinced his family are still alive and is furious with anybody unwilling to believe him.
Unable to bear seeing a dear friend in such a depressive state, Alice wants to explore Hatter’s elusive past and discover what really happened to his family, but to do so, she needs to retrieve the magical scepter from the clutches of Time (Sacha Baron Cohen). Needless to say, her time-travelling antics create a whole new set of problems to overcome, while she also seeks in getting to the bottom of the Red Queen’s (Helena Bonham Carter) tumultuous and strained relationship with her sister, White Queen (Anne Hathaway).
Partly why the tale is so much of a struggle to invest in, is because the stakes are simply not high enough. The Mad Hatter is having a bit of a meltdown, but is that enough for the entire story to thrive off? The consequences do not seem substantial enough, nor do they justify Alice’s inclination to put everything on the line for her friend. It’s a shame because the scenes back in reality are more compelling, and yet we deviate so carelessly away from them, as the notion of female hysteria being a prognosis fitting for a stay in an institution has many layers, but makes up a mere brief scene within this endeavour.
Nonetheless, Bobin proves his worth as a director able to squeeze impressive performances from his cast, which is particularly notable given they’re mainly acting opposite tennis balls on sticks. Yet there remains a profound sense of emotion and nuance, particularly by Bonham Carter, while Wasikowska remains perfect casting for this role. She’s courageous and you believe in her strength, but at the same time she’s also endearingly, and blissfully naïve, with eyes full of wonderment.
The film is CGI heavy though, perhaps too much so, despite being so vivacious in its approach. But beneath the vibrancy of the aesthetic is a vitally feminist narrative, particularly important given the context of the era this is set. To have a female lead of such strength is essential, and her gender is referred to consistently, while her ability to defy the odds and social expectations remains a prevalent theme, ensuring that in spite of the film’s flaws, there’s a role model in here for a young female audience, which can only ever be a positive thing.