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Alice Through the Looking Glass Review

"Is time running out on the Alice in Wonderland series?"

Despite receiving mixed reviews and being a mostly forgettable fantasy movie, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland was a financial success, making over $1 billion Worldwide. With numbers like that it is easy to see why Disney would want to make a sequel and after six years it has come in the form of Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) returns to England in 1875 after exploring China. When she returns she finds out her mother (Lindsay Duncan) had sold their shares in the trading company and had re-mortgaged the house. Alice’s options are either to make her mother homeless or give up her ship and accept a job as an office clerk from her ex-fiancé (Leo Bill).
alice through the looking glass - mia wasikowska
While at a party, Alice receives a mysterious calling and ends up back in Underland. She finds out that the Mad Hunter (Johnny Depp) is ill, believing his family had survived the Jabberwocky attack. The citizens of Underland, led by the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) believe the only way to save their friend is to go back in time and save his family. Alice is the only person who can do this because she is from another world – if anyone lets their past self sees his future self it will destroy the universe. Alice is able to steal a time machine known as a Chronospehere but actions could lead to the destruction of the fantasy world.

One of the issues that affected the 2010 movie was Tim Burton’s dark visual style and a very ugly world, with a stock fantasy plot of Alice being the one to save the world.  The Muppets‘ James Bobin has replaced the famous gothic director and his first task was to inject some color into the series. “Through the Looking Glass” is brighter than its predecessor and the sequences in the Grand Clock look fantastic, an environment of cogs, gears and clock hands. This  was when the movie was at its most inventive and the stakes felt at the highest as Alice has to manoeuvre around these contraptions.
alice through the looking glass - tick tock
Back in 2010 Wasikowska was a relatively unknown actress who was leading her first Hollywood movie. She was okay but starring alongside actors known for their larger than life personas. In the sequel she is a lot more confident with the big stars being sardonic and witty when in Victorian England and this time fully aware she was in Underland – so not trying to convince herself she was in a dream. Her first action in the movie was leading her ship’s crew during a chase by pirates in a scene that could have fitted in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Alice has a more masculine style of clothes, dressing in a shirt, tie and admiral’s jacket when captaining her ship and in a brightly colored Chinese style outfit. It shows both her non-conformity to Victorian value and willing to battle the sexist attitudes of the period.

When Alice returns to Underland she is willing to throw herself into the face of danger to help her friends – she is not subject to the whims of a prophecy and a standard ‘hero’s journey’. But when she meets Tick Tock (Sacha Baron Cohen), the personification of time she crosses the line from being brave to reckless. Tick Tock warns her that using the time machine could risk destroying the universe and make things even worse when she gets what she needs and still carries on with her time travelling escapades knowing the risks of her endeavour. It is stupid and selfish for a character who has been established as smart and resourceful.
alice through the looking glass - alice and the mad hatter
The rest of the surviving cast return and do fine in their respective roles. Helena Bonham Carter’s shrieks her way through the movie as the Red Queen but is given some humanity and justification for why she acts this way. Depp’s Mad Hatter is much more subdued compared to how he was in the last movie – making him more tolerable. Some of the voice actors like Michael Sheen and Stephen Fry’s roles were greatly reduced. Alan Rickman also reprises his role as Absolem the Butterfly – the movie was dedicated to him which was a nice touch.

The major new additions to the cast were Sasha Baron Cohen (who previously worked with Bobin on Da Ali G Show), Rhys Ifans and Toby Jones. Cohen and Jones play their roles with German accents – Cohen as the ‘antagonist’ was justified with his reaction to Alice wanting a time machine. Jones was the most fun presence as Tick Tock’s put upon assistant- he is like Kif from Futurama – he never gets the credit for doing something right but gets the blame when something bad happens.
alice through the looking glass - the butterfly
Linda Woolverton returns to script the sequel and she injects themes about family reconciliation. Characters clash with their family members – Alice’s mother wants her daughter to settle down, The Mad Hatter wants to make amends with his father and the Red and White Queens have an event that binds them. Bobin wanted the sequel to have more sympathetic villains which lead to the time travel storyline making a fantasy version of “Days of Future Past” – being both a sequel and prequel, while also having plenty of Doctor Who wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey logic. It also resulted in lots of time based puns.

Alice Through the Looking Glass did touch on the idea that Alice getting locked in an insane asylum. It is a perfectly good idea: it was used in Return to Oz and even in the video game American McGee’s Alice. The movie does not do anything with this side-plot, it serves no dramatic purpose, and the resolution was too easy. It could have been cut and nothing would have been lost.

Alice Through the Looking Glass is a perfectly serviceable if unremarkable family fantasy movie. Bobin does correct the dull color scheme of Tim Burton and Woolverton tries to inject some themes beyond that of destiny. Alice’s plot to help The Mad Hatter is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Rating
6.0
Pros
  • Bright and colorful
  • Fixes some of the problems of the previous film
  • The design and sequence in the Grand Clock
Cons
  • Alice is reckless
  • The characters overrate to solve the Mad Hatter's problem

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