Tim Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland wasn’t exactly a masterpiece of any sort but it nevertheless managed to become a surprisingly massive box office hit, bigger in fact that just about anything in this director’s oeuvre. And that couldn’t be stopped even by the lukewarm 51% rating on Rotten Tomatoes nor by yet another bizarre performance from Johnny Depp. This year’s sequel titled Alice Through the Looking Glass, this time directed by James Bobin, seems to be coming out of nowhere. Even with all the stars coming back, the promotional campaign was still virtually non-existent. Not to mention even worse reviews (30%).... It almost seems like a miracle that it had such good opening weekend.
Even with all the visual eye candy, the most striking and memorable element in Alice in Wonderland was in fact Danny Elfman's score. Yes, it was very much a typical Tim Burton music for the most part but the main Alice theme proved to be really strong and has since become composer’s personal favourite. It is then no surprise that he decided to come back for more. Elfman, unlike many other composers, always seems to enjoy playing with already established material. That was a case with several of his sequel scores (Batman Returns or Men In Black 2) as well as him embracing other composers’ material (in Mission: Impossible and Avengers: Age of Ultron). Alice Through the Looking Glass is no exception.
The opening suite ‘Alice’ forms sort of an overture and reprises the main theme from previous score in a slightly different arrangement. It starts off in a similar way but there is a sense of maturity to the development of this piece as Elfman comes up with new fresh variations that he marries with several other Alice's secondary themes (that are given a bigger role in this film). But that doesn't stop there. He manages to weave this main melody more intricately into the fabric of this score. In Alice in Wonderland, the theme was always stated in similar keys and variations thus becoming a bit tiresome by the end. This time, Elfman plays around with it a bit more and makes it sound more imposing or personal, depending on what is needed at any given time. The heroic and adventurous bursts in ‘The Red Queen’, ‘Oceans of Time’ and 'Time Is Up' are really fun and show great versatility. The melody finds its way into virtually every single track of this 76-minute long album without ever outstaying its welcome.
The sequel feels grander and more action-packed than its fairly static predecessor (‘Saving the Ship’ , ‘Chronosphere’, ‘Asylum Escape’) and finds time and space to develop of several returning themes (other than Alice's material, that is). The action-packed ‘Saving the Ship’ opens with a quote of Cheshire Cat’s theme. It comes back as well in tracks like ‘Watching Time’ and ‘To the Rescue’, and often seems integrated into the underscore so well that only careful listeners will pick it up. Hatter’s elusive material from the first score is also expanded upon.
Elfman also introduces new and fresh material into this world. The Time theme itself might not be necessarily that striking: it feel very much like a simplified version of the Russian-like melody found in composer's own Wanted and never quite reaches epic enough proportions to match Alice's material in terms of memorability. Some of the variations can be so slight that this melody might be difficult to spot (like the opening 'Oceans of Time') but it does receive a grand resolution during the score's action-packed finale ('Time Is Up'). Occasionally, the distinct rhythmic clock-like movement and choral accompaniment make it stand out more ('Watching Time').
Similarly to last year’s Goosebumps, this soundtrack is constructed of two parts. The main hour-long score section ends with track 20. The following six cues are essentially bonus score tracks and will be probably fairly easy to re-insert into album's main programme. And there’s also an unnecessary Pink song ‘Just Like Fire’ that, quite typically, doesn't sound like anything that came before it. However, it was thankfully was placed at the very end and thus doesn’t interrupt a flow of this very generous soundtrack album.
Alice Through the Looking Glass doesn’t reinvent the already established material but it manages to expand upon it and add more dimension to familiar themes, and also establish some new ones. If you are expecting something drastically new then this score will probably disappoint you. If, however, you seek more depth and satisfying musical expansion of Alice in Wonderland then it should satisfy your needs. It’s a work of an excellent musician who likes to explore and re-explore his material in a way that should bring a Cheshire-like smile to his most attentive and faithful listeners. And, once again, it will probably end up being the best thing about this film.
Alice Through the Looking Glass is out now from Walt Disney Records