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Don't Look Into This 'Looking Glass'

Disney's live-action update reflects badly on just about everyone

Rating: PG

Run time: 1 hour 53 minutes

Stars: Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Mia Wasikowska

Director: James Bobin

Somebody get a hammer — this mirror needs a good whacking.

Against a backdrop that looks like Thomas Kinkade had thrown up on his canvas, the figures in Alice Through the Looking Glass — based on characters created by Lewis Carroll, but as close to the author as Beetle Bailey is to Stephen Crane — gambol about in 3-D hell, leaping across chasms, flying through space and clambering around inside computer-generated landscapes.

Before you object, "But it's a kids movie!," let the record show that any child who subjects a parent to this noisy, calamitous junk pile of a film should be written out of the will.

It's hard to know who's to blame. Director James Bobin did a nice job on Muppets Most Wanted, while screenwriter Linda Woolverton gets a lifetime pass for having penned the magical script for Disney's animated Beauty and the Beast. And the cast — what we can see of them through multiple layers of computer morphing — is fine, though Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter seems less mad than perpetually vexed. Maybe the culprit is money, as in entirely too much of the stuff: A stripped-down version of this film would have been far less visually and aurally obnoxious.

Let's try to summarize the story, shall we? Alice, all grown up after her first Wonderland adventure, is now a sea captain who specializes in outrunning pirates. In London, a mean, male-chauvinist businessman tries to steal her ship; visiting his home to voice her objections, Alice follows a butterfly (voiced by the late Alan Rickman) through a mirror — and back into Wonderland, where Alice finds all her old friends moping about because a fire-breathing dragon has killed the Mad Hatter's family. Alice resolves to save the Hatter's family by traveling back in time to warn them. But to do that, she must first steal a certain metal ball from Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen, better known as the ridiculous Ali G).

Johnny Depp and Mia Wasikowska in 'Alice In Wonderland: Through The Looking Glass'

Peter Mountain/Disney

Johnny Depp and Mia Wasikowska in "Alice In Wonderland: Through The Looking Glass"

Nah. I give up. In fact let's just stop there, about 20 minutes into the movie. As overstuffed as Looking Glass is with dizzying special effects, that's nothing compared to the dump truck full of backstory we're fed about the characters:

Here's why the Mad Hatter is mad.

This is why the Red Queen's head is shaped like a heart.

See how the Cheshire Cat practiced disappearing as a kitten?

Lewis Carroll's original Alice stories unfolded like a dream. You never get TMI in a dream: People pop in and out unannounced; props materialize without reason; nature contorts itself without warning. Every event is randomly dictated by the firing of synapses in the dreamer's cerebral cortex.

Carroll's original menagerie of characters had no backstories. The Cheshire Cat just smiled; the Red Queen was simply blustery; and the Mad Hatter was, well, merely mad.

But in this latter-day version of Wonderland, if the Mad Hatter were to ask Alice, "Why is a raven like a writing-desk?," instead of answering "I haven't the slightest idea," he would explain that as a young chick the raven dreamed of being a great author, but his overbearing father crushed those aspirations, insisting that the job of a raven is to sit atop a tree and caw, and nothing more. But Young Master Raven, the Mad Hatter would continue, was as plucky as he was talented: He therefore secretly followed that dream, hiding under the covers at night and furtively scribbling poetry on scraps of paper held tightly to his chest. And that is why a raven is like a writing-desk.

Wait. I think I just wrote the elevator pitch for Alice III. Off with my head!

Bill Newcott is a writer, editor and movie critic for AARP Media.

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