New 'Alice' proves Disney's live-action movies aren't a sure thing

Posted June 5

Six years ago, Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” overcame middling reviews to achieve what was, at the time, still a rare feat: crossing the $1 billion line at the worldwide box office — and becoming just the sixth movie in history to do so, according to Collider.

“Alice's” outsized success, which left many critics scratching their heads, not only pretty much guaranteed a sequel but also singlehandedly set a new course for Disney’s live-action films.

For proof, just look at “Maleficent,” “Cinderella,” “The Jungle Book” or pretty much any of Disney’s live-action movies coming out in the next five years.

Fast-forward to today, though, and “Alice in Wonderland's” long-awaited (perhaps too long-awaited) sequel, “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” not only didn’t match the original in terms of box office, it straight up bombed.

Compared to the 2010 film, which opened to $116 million on a regular three-day weekend in March, according to Box Office Mojo, “Through the Looking Glass” only managed to pull in a meager $34 million over the four-day Memorial Day weekend — in other words, not even a third of the original, even factoring in an extra day.

So what went wrong?

There are a lot of possibilities, including that this time around, audiences actually paid attention to the negative reviews, which have been even worse. The new “Alice’s” current Rotten Tomatoes score (30 percent) is more than 20 points below the score of the first movie.

On top of that, “Through the Looking Glass’” biggest star, Johnny Depp, is simply not the box-office draw he once was, as evidenced by a slew of movies he’s headlined in the past few years that have similarly underperformed (“Dark Shadows,” “The Lone Ranger,” “Transcendence,” etc.).

And, as many have noted, in 2010, “Alice in Wonderland” was the first major Hollywood movie after James Cameron’s “Avatar” to make use of 3-D, according to Forbes. The novelty of that technology has long since worn off for audiences.

All of this goes to show that even Disney’s live-action adaptations of old classics — which tend to have broad appeal, attracting generations brought up on the animated originals as well as families with kids who might be new to the stories — aren’t a sure thing.

Disney’s upcoming live-action slate is built upon more of the same. Later this summer, the studio is releasing the David Lowery-directed “Pete’s Dragon,” a redo of the 1977 movie about a boy and his cartoon dragon pal.

Then, in March 2017, the studio is set to release what is probably the most highly anticipated of all its adaptations, “Beauty and the Beast,” which will star Emma Watson and Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”) in the titular roles. The first teaser trailer, which premiered last week, broke the record previously set by “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” to become the trailer with the most views in its first 24 hours, with 91.8 million views, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Farther down the road, audiences can look forward to live-action remakes of everything from “Dumbo” to “Mulan” to “Winnie the Pooh” to the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment from “Fantasia,” as well as prequels based on “101 Dalmatians” (“Cruella,” starring Emma Stone) and “Aladdin” (“Genies”), spinoffs (“Tink,” starring Reese Witherspoon, and “Rose Red,” about Snow White’s heretofore unknown sister), and sequels to “Maleficent” and “The Jungle Book,” among others.

So, with all this (and more) on the horizon, “Alice Through the Looking Glass’” box-office failure could serve as an important reminder for Disney that it takes more than a beloved-by-generations property and lots and lots of CGI spectacle to woo audiences these days.

Jeff Peterson is a native of Utah Valley and studied humanities and history at Brigham Young University. Along with the Deseret News, he also contributes to the film discussion website TheMovieScrutineer.com.


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