Alice Through The Looking Glass Review
THROUGH A “LOOKING GLASS” DARKLY
In 2010, Tim Burton unveiled Alice in Wonderland to moviegoers, bringing his wacky and zany taste to Lewis Carroll’s classic story. This live action feature film, which was released by Disney, was interesting as it was presented as sequel story to Carroll’s original piece, finding Alice (as a young adult) and returning to Wonderland (or rather Underland) to fulfill a prophecy in defeating Red Queen and her fearsome Jabberwocky. While the movie was praised for its creativity and wacky / colorful imagery, the movie (as a whole) was faced with mixed reviews from critics and moviegoers, believing that the story was too convoluted and / or too generic as fantasy story or just that Johnny Depp’s character of the iconic Mad Hatter was downright creepy. Despite that, Alice in Wonderland went on to gross over 1 billion dollars at the worldwide box office, paving the way for Disney (and other studios) to recreate and reimaging classics / fairy tale stories (i.e. Snow White and the Huntsman, Jack the Giant Slayer, Oz the Great and Powerful, Cinderella, etc.). Six years later, Disney and director James Bobin are ready to go for another Alice adventure with the follow up-sequel film Alice Through the Looking Glass. Is this worth going back down the “rabbit hole” or is it CG “Futterwacken” mess?
Spending three years touring the world as the captain of her father’s ship “The Wonder”, Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) finally returns home to London, discovering that her ex-fiancée, Hamish (Leo Bill) has recently married, become the “new” Lord Ascot, and is in control of her family’s property, ordering the adventurous young adult to take a meanly job as a clerk. Confused and angry over her current situation and with her mother, Helen Kingsleigh (Lindsay Duncan), Alice finds escapes through a magic mirror, transporting her back to Underland to meet old friends, only to learn that her dear friend, the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), is near death, unable to coupe a recent discovery that his estranged “Hatter” family, presumably killed by the Jabberwocky, is alive. Tasked by the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) to save the Mad Hatter, Alice visit Time (Sacha Baron Cohen), a half-mechanical king of clockwork and master of time itself, requesting permission to the use the legendary chronosphere, a device used to travel through time. With her offer refused by Time, Alice steals the chronospehere, trying to prevent the death of Hatter’s family. With her goal on her mind, Alice travels back tin time, only to uncover the truth behind the petulant Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), who teams with Time to the human invader before she has a chance to restore order.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I remember seeing Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland with my cousin back when it came out in theaters. Personally, I liked it. Yes, it had its flaws and some stuff that was wonky with its storytelling, narrative beats, and the really “twisted” version of Carroll’s Mad Hatter. However, I liked how the movie was colorful and imaginative in its art direction and appeal of expressing Burton’s vision of Wonderland (again, I mean Underland), taking the classic narrative and spinning a “sequel” yarn. Like I said above, I also liked Alice in Wonderland for it represents, opening the gates to Disney (and other studios) to reimagine classics and fairy tales for new live-action feature films. It was interesting to see the trailer for Alice Through the Looking Glass as I really didn’t expect to follow-up film to be made, though I was still excited to see it and travel through the “Looking Glass” to Underland once more. However, after seeing the movie, I felt that Alice Through the Looking Glass, while somewhat entertaining, was a trip that was completely unnecessary from start to finish.
With Tim Burton stepping down as director, staying on the project as producer, directorial duties Through the Looking Glass, are passed on to James Bobin. Bobin, who directed such films as the Muppets and its sequel Muppets Most Wanted, takes a little bit more “lighthearted” approach to Alice Kingsleigh’s second trip to Underland, removing some of Burton’s darker nunances from the first film. There’s still the overall zany and wackiness to Underland, which Bobin embraces, but make Through the Looking Glass his own. There’s more comedy involved (whether physical or verbal) and is a little bit more geared towards younger audiences and even a little bit more “tenderness” in the movie’s proceedings.
The movie’s overall color palette seems livelier than Burton’s Alice in Wonderland as Through the Looking Glass is more awashed with bright colors in costumes, set pieces, and visual effects. Speaking out that, the film’s visual effects, while not super-awesomely exploding, are pretty good, but it sometimes overuses them (especially towards the film’s third act). Still, the movie has some standout visuals scenes like the ones involving Time’s palace. Also, Bobin utilizes more “practical” effects with usage of more physical set designs than Burton did in his movie.
With Linda Woolverton writing the film’s script (she also wrote the script for the Burton’s Alice in Wonderland), Bobin charts a course through Underland, uncovering the past of several characters with the usage of “time travel” as its vessel. Also, Woolverton gives the character of Alice Kingsleigh a somewhat interesting story arc (Alice learns that she cannot simply “cheat” her way out of adult problems), which continues to build upon Alice’s own “coming of age” journey from the previous installment.
Unfortunately, the biggest problem I found with Through the Looking Glass was in its actual story. This movie really didn’t need to be made. The first one was good and it was a satisfying cinematic journey (at least to me), but it didn’t warrant another trip to Alice’s Underland. Thus, the entire Through the Looking Glass movie feels superfluous and complete unnecessary. Moreover, the whole “time travel” aspect seems a little bit recycled from the standard “time traveling” troupes (i.e. looking into the past, trying to alter the past, and whole “time cannot be changed”, etc.). It’s all been played out before and makes the movie (as a whole) formulaic. In truth, it seems that the whole “time traveling” business seem like it should part of a separate movie entirely and as little do with Underland and by proximity to Carroll’s Wonderland mythos. Meaning, time traveling is more important in Through the Looking Glass rather the imaginative world of Underland and its eccentric denizens therein. In conjunction with that, Alice’s adventure seems a bit recycled from the first one (i.e. she has a problem, has an adventure in Underland, and comes out with newfound understanding of the problem she had earlier). Its good angle in storytelling, but it seems lazy work on Woolverton, Bobin, and Disney for rehashing that structure from the first feature.
For the most part, and just like the first film, Through the Looking Glass has a diverse cast of recognizable actors and actresses that either play or voices some of the movie’s colorful characters. OF course, the performances are good and are very “theatrically bold”, which is not a bad thing, but the some of the characters are just flatly written and aren’t fleshed out as they could be. Mia Wasikowska returns as the worldly and optimistic Alice Kingsleigh. Unfortunately, despite given another solid role, Wasikowska’s Alice is pretty much an “observer” or a “bystander” as she travels through time to watch events on unfold to other Underland characters (Hatter, the Red Queen, and the White Queen). Thus, Through the Looking Glass is less about “her” and more about her trying to help those who are in-need of help, which is kind of disappointing.
Johnny Depp’s character of the “Mad Hatter” is given a backstory that involves his difficult relationship with his father Zanik Hightopp, played by Rhys Ifans, but it seems that this plot thread in Through the Looking Glass is a little bit derivate from previous Burton / Depp collaboration that involves “daddy issues” (i.e. 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). As the Hatter himself, there’s less emotional nuances (beyond the plot thread of him trying to find his family) than what was presented in Alice in Wonderland. Still, Depp’s all-around “theatrically bold” performance brings the character, even if its two-dimensional caricature of Carroll’s “Mad Hatter”. Coinciding with that, Ifans, does good work as Hatter’s father, but the character itself could’ve been more drawing out and given more depth beyond what was written.
Similar to Depp’s Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen (or rather Iracebeth) gets an interesting backstory that paints the infamous “Red Queen” character in a more sympathetic light (kind of similar to what Disney did in Maleficent). However, while Woolverton’s intentions are to sound in the film’s screenplay, the emotional insight feels a like “wonky” as Carter’s Red Queen is the same antagonist from the first film (still shrieking a lot) and her relationship with Anne Hathaway’s White Queen (Miranda) is still underdeveloped, so much that this newfound “revelation” in the Underland sister’s past is not as dramatic as it wants to be.
Newcomer to the movie universe is Sacha Baron Cohen’s Time, who is an important character in Through the Looking Glass’s main narrative. Cohen’s quirky and humorous performances helps give the character a pleasing appeal, acting not as an antagonist, but rather an obstacle / moral objective that Alice must face and understanding throughout the movie’s proceedings. Still, Cohen’s Time is probably the most entertaining character (new or old) in Through the Looking Glass.
Meanwhile, in supporting roles, the rest of Underland CGI characters return from the first Alice in Wonderland movie with most (if not all) return actors / actresses to reprise their colorful counterpoints. This includes, Michael Sheen’s White Rabbit, Stephen Fry’s Cheshire Cat, Matt Lucas’s duo role of Tweedledee and Tweedledum, Timothy Spall’s Bayard, and Barbara Windsor’s Mallymkun. While each one returns to their post to reprise their respective character, there are, more or less, there for continuity reasons to keep the movie invested in the whole “Wonderland / Underland” aesthetic.
The same thing can be said with the non-Underland characters who return as well, including Lindsay Duncan’s Helen Kingsleigh (Alice’s mother), Leo Bill’s Hamish, Geraldine James’s the former Lady Ascot (Hamish’s mother). All good work in their acting skills and performance, but are merely there for “decorations” and continuity reasons. This also extends slightly to some new “human” minor characters in the Through the Looking Glass like Ed Speleers’s James Harcourt, and Richard Armitage and Hattie Morahan as King Oleron and Queen Elsemere (parents to the Red and White Queen). As a side-note, the late Alan Rickman does reprise his role in the movie as Absolem, though it’s a brief appearance. Perhaps they (Bobin and team) were going to do more with the role, but, due to Rickman’s death, had to work with what they had.
As a final note, before Through the Looking Glass started, they showed the Pink’s music video for her song “Just Like Fire”, which is the end credits song. It’s pretty good (a little catchy) and the music video is just as wacky and zany as Underland itself. I might actually download the song.
It’s a race against time (quite literally) to save the “Hatter” in the fantasy sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass. Director James Bobin’s continuation of Tim Burton’s 2010 movie is haphazard and slightly nonsensical. Sure, the movie boasts a colorful palette of imaginative and fantastical landscapes and imagery (both in practical and visual effects) as well as its enjoyable returning cast (plus some of its news ones), but, as a whole, the film is unnecessary and a forgettable sequel. Personally, I was a little disappointed as I did like the first one (probably one of the few who did) and felt that this sequel film was just a “Disney product” of the previous movie (as if the Disney’s execs were more interested in starting a movie franchise of sorts) rather than a refreshing extension to its original source material. Because of that, I would say that Alice Through the Looking Glass is an “iffy-choice” as the movie still has some redeeming qualities, but not enough to warrant a glance in theaters (unless your super curious to see this movie). Will Disney commissioned a third installment of Alice Kingsleigh and her journey to return to Underland? Who can say (but most likely not). Only “Time” will tell… that and probably what Alice Through the Looking Glass makes at the box-office.
3.1 Out of 5 (Iffy-choice)
Released On: May 27th, 2016
Reviewed On: May 29th, 2016
Alice Through the Looking Glass is rated PG for fantasy action/peril and some language