“The same but different” is a common credo for sequels. The idea is to give the audiences something familiar so as not to scare them that they might be presented with new ideas but also to present them with something new, a new story featuring the characters they already know. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s a well that’s often drawn from, particularly in these days of franchises being priorities to studios. They need to bring in audiences who want to revisit familiar themes but who need a guaranteed good time at the theater, not necessarily a movie that’s going to challenge them and make them think because that’s hard.
So we have Alice Through The Looking Glass. The movie is a sequel to 2010’s Tim Burton-directed Alice in Wonderland and brings back Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Mia Wasikowska as Alice and more from the first movie. Alice must return to Wonderland to save it from being destroyed by The Lord of Time (Sacha Baron Cohen), who wants to turn it into a wasteland. Not only that but she must stop the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) from succeeding in her plot to return to the throne. So the idea is simple in that, like with the first movie, it gets Alice into Wonderland, gives her something only she can accomplish for whatever reason and aligns her with or pits her against a group of colorful characters.
The first bit of marketing that was released – indeed this may have been the official announcement that the movie was actually happening – was a couple of posters shown off at Disney’s 2015 D23 expo. One showed Alice and the other the Mad Hatter, each dancing merrily on a lake in the distance. That distance allowed the designers to show the characters without actually needing to get anyone in costume, which was likely essential this far out from the movie.
A bit after that a series of five character posters were released that featured Alice, the Hatter, the Red Queen, the White Queen and Time. All were placed in front of some wibbly-wobbly background and all were holding some sort of glowing ball that presumably is instrumental to the movie’s story. These are neat and totally expected given the costumes and production but don’t really hit any original notes. Later on there were character one-sheets for Absalom and The Tweedles as well, just so they didn’t feel left out.
The next poster released brought most, if not all, the major cast together in a very colorful one-sheet that arrayed them all around the titular looking glass. So we get a good look at most of the characters, Depp’s Mad Hatter at the center, with clocks strewn about around them. It’s bright and certainly makes a statement, trying to sell the manic energy of the movie more than anything else.
We open in the first trailer – which was teased by the release of four teaser videos in the days leading up to its debut – by hearing it’s been a long time since Alice was in Wonderland and things have fallen into neglect in her absence. So we get some shots of Wonderland in ruins and looking very desolate. Alice seeks an audience with Time since turning back time is the solution to the problems they face. But things don’t go well. We meet the Hatter and the Red Queen and get shots of the rest of the supporting characters as well.
It’s not bad and certainly makes it clear that the production value isn’t being sacrificed in the sequel. Only the bare threads of the plot are hinted at, but that’s alright since this is just about making sure people know the movie is coming out. Critics weren’t thrilled with Depp’s antics but audiences were and he’s on full display here to make it clear he’s just as big a part of this movie as he was the first one.
The second trailer starts off with Alice being diagnosed as hysterical in a hospital because of the tales of her adventures. She returns to Wonderland to find things aren’t doing well, including how the Hatter is sick. She’s pitted against Time himself to restore her friend and save the residents of Wonderland.
It looks fun and bright and visually popping but that’s about it. Only the barest outline of a story is on display here as the movie’s being sold almost entirely on the appeal of its spectacle and little else.
Online and Social
A big recreation of the key art greets you at the top of the movie’s official website, one that isn’t full-motion so much as it pulses like a heartbeat, with a “Get Tickets” button at the bottom.
There’s actually not much on the site. Tim Burton provides an introduction encouraging people to see the movie in IMAX to what seems to be an exclusive trailer. Below that are more videos, including interviews with the cast, featurettes and so on.
You can view and download the character banner and some of the posters and other images in a scrolling section below that. Finally, there are links to more Alice-related content from Disney, including tips on painting your fingernails and more.
The movie’s Facebook page has promotional videos, photos from premieres and other events and other updates counting down to release. There was no Twitter page just for the movie so it had to hitch along on Disney Studios’ Twitter, where they were using #ThroughTheLookingGlass for Alice-specific posts.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The paid portion of the campaign kicked off with a 30-second spot that debuted during the recent Super Bowl 50. The spot received lots of press because it’s narrated by the late Alan Rickman. Outside of that it plays a lot like the first trailer, explaining that Alice’s prolonged absence has not been good for Wonderland and its residents.
An extended TV spot debuted during the Grammys broadcast earlier this year. This spot features lots of plot…or at least lots of setup for the plot. So we don’t get the same kind of “you’ve been away too long” framing that we’ve seen earlier. Instead it’s more about how everyone is looking for Alice and wants to know where she is and when she will be arriving.
It’s trippy and colorful, two things that are underlined by Pink’s cover of “White Rabbit” that plays over the footage. Future TV spots would hit many of the same story beats, with changes around the edges but all basically setting up Alice’s return and the troubles she finds when she’s back in Wonderland. Disney asked “Where does the time go?” in a TV spot that was timed to Daylight Savings Time, a nice tie-in that helped the studio show off some more of the movie.
In terms of promotional partners, the only one there was information on was Urban Decay, which created a line of cosmetics and makeup inspired by the movie. Lots of movie products were shilled on HSN in the days leading up to the movie
There were lots of online ads run, including promoted posts on Twitter and Facebook that encouraged people to watch a new video, buy tickets or take some other action.
Media and Publicity
Aside from the press generated by the release of marketing materials and clips, some of the first press was a Q&A with Bonham-Carter, who talked about the unique challenges of shooting the movie, interacting with her costars on the set and more.
Depp surprised visitors to Disneyland by appearing virtually on a digital billboard in character, interacting with visitors and generally freaking people out.
Director James Bobin talked a bit about taking the reins of the franchise from Tim Burton, what attracted him to the project, making the transition from Muppets and Ali G movies to effects-heavy fairy tales and more.
Hero Complex Gallery in L.A. put together an exclusive collection of artwork inspired by the timeless story and its many incarnations, including this and the previous movie.
The whole cast and crew talked about making the movie, Alice’s evolution between the two stories and more at the official premiere.
There’s some cool stuff here but it’s not clear at all what movie it is that’s being sold here. At times it presents a story that has Alice being just as wide-eyed as she was in the first movie, at other times she’s a seasoned leader who’s ready for any and all threats. At times it’s a dark, almost dystopian story at other times it’s bright and funny and full of the same amusing characters we met before. That kind of unclear attitude about what it is that’s being presented the audience is, unfortunately, seen throughout the campaign.
But what is consistent is the trippy sense that permeates the marketing. If the first one was sold as being a stoner’s dream story this one is sold as the stoners becoming militant and actually trying to solve a problem. This isn’t the drop-acid and hope for the best story, it’s the one where the hippies got wise and joined the ROTC and are now looking for ways to bring in their former fellow travelers. It’s a fever dream of CGI sets, with characters there just to provide the action against the luscious backdrops.