REVIEW: Time is no one’s friend in Alice Through the Looking Glass

It’s pretty to look at, and the story has some moments of empowerment…but that’s about as far as we get.

Disney’s Alice Through the Looking Glass has very little to do with the actual Lewis Carroll book. Aside from the characters, the title, and the setting, this is an incredibly loose adaptation of the second book (okay, I’m being nice – there really isn’t much of the book in this film).

In this adventure, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) must return to Wonderland to help the Hatter (Johnny Depp) overcome illness; he’s sick because he believes his family actually survived the day the Jabberwocky destroyed his home (you may remember this day in a flashback from the first film, if you saw it), under the Red Queen’s (Helena Bonham Carter) hand. He is desperate to be reunited with them, and believes Alice is the only person that can do it. Alice hears from the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) that she might be able to save the Hatter by stealing a chronosphere, an item that allows for time travel – from Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen). The item is also responsible for keeping the Wonderland clock ticking, so there are repercussions, of course, if you don’t use the chronosphere from its intended purpose.

This is a James Bobin/Tim Burton project – and I am a Burton fan, in most cases. As was the case with the first film, the visual quality is fantastic. As has been the case with a number of recent movies, however, I felt I didn’t gain much watching the film in 3D. I suggest saving yourself a few bucks, and seeing it in 2D if you wish. Not even the Red Queen’s giant head looks anymore unique in the 3D conversion.

What was most apparent in the movie was – and if you’re a fan of the first film, you’ll notice it pretty quick – the hole in the sequel’s story. Disney writers have attempted to try and pull a fast one on the viewer; they want you to believe that all this time, the Red Queen had been holding Hatter’s family. However, if you go back to the first movie, you’ll remember at the end of the film, the Red Queen loses her throne, and, while handcuffed to her lover, the Knave of Hearts, she is banished. I don’t recall her toting around a group of red-haired folk. Nice try, Disney, Bobin, Burton and co.

I’m also disappointed in how much this felt like a quota movie – and, worse, I think if you look at this as a stand-alone feature, you’re going to be even more disappointed. There was something so empty about the story, despite creative characters, and some shining moments of inspiration (I’ll get to that in a second). When I say a “quota movie,” I mean it feels like Disney had to meet their sequel minimums; to do this film because everything seemingly needs to have a sequel. This was a prime example of some story writing that couldn’t be knit together into one cohesive narrative, and dragged the viewer through a story that was all over the map.

I was impressed with the strength Alice not only exuded, but the ideals she might inspire in younger girls in the next few weeks as they head off to the theatres to see it. In the opening of the film, you’re met with Alice, captain of a ship – in the time period she’s living in, by the way – being attacked by pirates. She’s questioned by her crew when she chooses to bring down every last sail and turn the boat sharply to avoid the attackers, but she doesn’t let her crews doubt faze her. The idea that Alice “can do whatever she wants” is a recurring theme in the movie, and I hope that that’s the takeaway people get from this film: be whomever you want to be; do what you want to do.

Baron Cohen as what I thought was not so bad in this film, but I felt they could have developed him more. Often I wasn’t sure what Burton was going for with Baron Cohen’s direction: was he looking for comic relief, or a formidable hurdle to Alice’s goals? The end of the movie came, and I still couldn’t make up my mind.

Like the first movie, this is another strong showing for visuals and special effects. The breathtaking landscape of Wonderland gives the movie just a touch more enchantment, and is pleasing to the eye. The new CGI characters are cute: Matt Vogel as Wilkins, some kind of robot (who suffers a LOT of verbal abuse at the hands of Time) was charming. This was, indeed, Alan Rickman’s final role, voicing the character of Absalom, but his part is a bit of an afterthought. If you were going in there looking for a solid dose of Rickman, it’s not here. All in all, this movie has one too many week points, which brings it down a few notches not only as a sequel, but as a movie standing on its own.

2.5 trips to Wonderland out of 5. Go see it if you’re a fan of the movies, but don’t go see it if you are a die-hard fan of the books. I think Lewis Carroll may be rolling in his grave. Skip it altogether if you don’t care, and wait for a cheapie Tuesday or a home release if you’re unsure you want to go.

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