ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
PG, 118 mins.
2016, PG, 118 mins.
Johnny Depp as Mad Hatter / Mia Wasikowska as Alice / Anne Hathaway as White Queen / Helena Bonham-Carter as Red Queen / Alan Rickman as Blue Caterpillar (voice) / Michael Sheen as White Rabbit (voice) / Sacha Baron Cohen as Time / Andrew Scott as Addison Bennett / Toby Jones as Wilkins (voice) / Rhys Ifans as Zanik Hightopp / Timothy Spall as Bayard (voice) / Ed Speleers as James Harcourt / Stephen Fry as Cheshire Cat / Lindsay Duncan as Helen Kingsleigh / Matt Lucas as Tweedledee / Tweedledum
Directed by James Bobin / Written by Linda Woolverton
I wasn't overly
enthusiastic upon leaving my screening of Tim Burton’s 2010 adaptation
of ALICE IN WONDERLAND, mostly because it failed to stay with me in any
significant and lasting manner after I saw it.
The film was a gargantuan global box office success for the
director and Disney, making over a billion (that’s a billion)
dollars worldwide, which made the chances of a sequel a foregone
conclusion. Obviously, this
left me feeling rather lukewarm, if not a bit resistant, to the notion of
having to sit through a continuation of the first film that I admired in
parts, but nevertheless found coldly antiseptic and lacking in a strong
Oddly enough, I
found myself being a bit more won over by ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS,
the six years in the making follow-up (very, very loosely based on
Lewis Carroll’s own work of the same name), mostly because it does what
decent sequels should do. It
surprisingly segregates itself apart from its predecessor and takes the
characters and storylines in new directions. ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, perhaps even more so than
the first film, is an absolute triumph of art and production design.
Beyond that, the individual performers themselves seem more
actively engaged and comfortable amidst all of the artificial fakery that
surrounds them, which makes the underlining story of this film simmer with
a bit more interest this go-around.
especially true of the film’s titular heroine herself, and Mia
Wasikowska seems considerably more at ease and substantially less stiff
and mannered in playing her iconic character for round two.
The film opens with a wonderfully envisioned sequence set at sea,
showing the slightly older and more mature Alice commanding a vessel of
her own, much to the chagrin of her mostly male crew.
Apparently, she has spent her last post-Wonderland three years
exploring the world on the ocean, only now to return back to London to
make some rather disastrous discoveries.
He ex-fiancée Hamish (Leo Bill) has somehow gained financial
control and a stake in her family’s property, and orders Alice to
abandon her sea-faring days to take a lowly clerk job under him to keep
her family estate intact. Of
course, this devastating turn of events has left Alice bitter and
confused…if only she had some manner of escaping her harsh reality and
into a vastly more inviting one?
conveniently, Alice is able to yet again make a magical pilgrimage
back to Wonderland via a mirror that serves as a nifty teleportation
device. She quickly hooks up
with the same strange menagerie of colorfully eclectic friends that she
met during her first experience there, but all is not well upon her
return. It appears that the
Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is dying and having great difficulty trying to
come to grips with the fact that his estranged family has apparently been
killed…or were they? With
the guidance and assistance of the White Queen (Anne Hathaway, acting…a
lot…with…her…waving…hands), Alice realizes that the only way to
solve the puzzle of the Hatter’s family’s disappearance and to get the
former back on the right mental track is to time travel back to the past
and set things right. She
must first secure a Chronosphere (time travel machine), but she has to
take one without Time himself noticing (played by an unpredictably lively
Sacha Baron Coen). When Alice
does make her temporal journey she discovers that dealing with the
Hatter’s family is more complicated than she predicted, especially when
new information about the evil Red Queen’s (Helena Bonham-Carter)
upbringing in the past and team-up with Time in the present creates added
barriers that impede Alice’s mission.
ALICE THROUGH THE
LOOKING GLASS is inordinately inventive as far as its rich visual tapestry
is concerned and has ample fun in envisioning its otherworldly sights.
Time himself is shown as a bizarrely macabre hybrid of human and
steam punk-inspired machine, whose own inner workings resemble that of the
immensely intricate inner workings of a clock.
The realm that Time resides over is a bravura series of awe
inspiring set pieces, which taps into how Carroll’s own literary world
felt both inviting and frightening at the same time.
Sacha Baron Coen brings the right level of mysterious peculiarity
to his antagonist (who sounds an awful lot like a kookier version of
director Werner Herzog), who controls everyone in Wonderland, which are
represented in his dominion as a series of thousands upon thousands of
golden pocket watches that he can pluck down and stop at any give moment.
If anything, Time is a creepy and dangerously powerful entity in
ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS that holds every human life in his
topsy-turvy world has more moments of mischievous cleverness, especially
with the design of the Chronosphere, which looks like a cross between a
brightly illuminated Christmas tree ornament and something right of the
mind of Jules Vern. When
Alice pilots it through the past itself, time takes the form of vast ocean
ripples with each wave showing a visual preview of what era is contained
within. Now, when paradoxes
are caused by any denizen of Wonderland (there’s a built in caveat that
if anyone from it sees or comes across their younger selves in the past
then it would destroy their universe altogether) their entire world and
existence begins to eerily rust over like a massive and quick spreading
virus, which is as unnerving as it appears in the film.
That’s not to say that ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS is
aggressively glum, dark, and gothically imposing (like much of Burton’s
realization of Wonderland in the first film).
New series director James Bobin (replacing Burton, having
previously made the last two very enjoyable MUPPETS films) presents an
Alice adventure that’s a bit more appealingly brighter, less violent,
and more compellingly self-contained.
ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS is obviously trying to mimic the
aesthetic that Burton established, but Bobin seems to have a better knack
for infusing this new installment with a greater sense of visual dynamism
and a more jovial spirit.
overall preponderance of green-screened computer rendered imagery is the
film’s added dimension that it gives individual characters this time.
Deep as the Hatter has more of an involving melancholic arc,
succumbing to a deep depression due to old family emotional wounds.
Even side characters like the White Queen and the Red Queen have
their back stories embellished more, as we see how some seemingly
inconsequential events ended up having seismic impacts on their future
psychological well being. Most
importantly, Alice herself seems more headstrong and determined now, and
ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS finds interest in further exploring the
notion of an 18th century woman that’s enslaved by the misogamy of her
times, but uses her adventures in Wonderland to become a more assured
being that emancipates herself from such societal shackles.
These are good and worthy themes for young female viewers,
especially in a genre that’s been populated by male characters for
ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS will not convert die hard Carroll-ites into the fold (it takes a lot of liberties with the source material), not to mention that the film still has many of the same irritants of its antecedent (like the shrill nature of Bonham-Carter screaming every line of dialogue to audience numbing effect). Still, this movie feels more actualized and intriguing than what came before it, and its BACK TO THE FUTURE styled time travel elements add new layers of exciting intrigue to this fantasy world, allowing for it to simultaneously serve as both a prequel and sequel. That, and there’s a bit more actual wonder in this version of Wonderland. The level of unbridled conceptual imagination on display here is too commendable to simply write the film off (as far too many other short sighted critics have done) as a completely worthless write-off.