Alice Through the Looking Glass Review
The story of Alice in Wonderland was, on paper, a perfect fit for Tim Burton. It plays right into his aptitude for showcasing childish wonder, darkness and absurdity side by side in satisfyingly incoherent whole. Yet, his 2010 adaptation of the novel for Disney was, while entertaining, far from his best. Enter the sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass, this time directed by James Bobin, with Burton on as a producer. And this follow up is an equal, if not worse, disappointment than its predecessor.
In this instalment, we discover that Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has become a ship captain, going on adventurous trade voyages to China for a company of sea merchants. When she returns from her latest journey, she discovers that her employer is now her jilted former fiancé, Hamish (Leo Bill). And Hamish is very keen indeed on getting Alice stuck to a desk job.
Before any of this is resolved, our main character is whisked away to Underland, where the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) has taken ill (a sort of depression). He is convinced that his family, believed to have been murdered decades ago, is in fact alive, and needs to be rescued. Alice decides to travel back in time to discover what has happened to them - but first needs the agreement of Time (Sasha Baron Cohen) himself.
Scriptwriter Linda Woolverton has made poor work of Alice Through the Looking Glass's script. Its dialogues are leaden, the stuff you might hear in cheap morning children’s cartoons. Its key villain, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), is wholly irritating. Once the surprise of the Red Queen’s eccentricity is gone (which it is, as she is much like what she was in the last film), there’s not much in the character that’s of interest. The story itself is not unentertaining, yet feels very derivative. The time travel conceit is not dissimilar to Back to the Future but with nowhere the same level of fun, or any of the emotional potency.
Even more frustrating is the film’s undisguised mission to convey Alice as a * strong female character *. This, of course, has become a trope in itself. It’s not just about portraying strong women - but rather, women as layered characters, demonstrating a wide range of emotions, in non-stereotyped roles. The characters of Elsa and Anna in Frozen nailed it, as did Judy’s in Zootropolis. For Disney, this is a clumsy follow-up.
It’s not all bad, however. There is a wonderfully funny scene in which Time, the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), the March Hare (Paul Whitehouse), and the Doormouse (Barbara Windsor) exchange time puns. And in the rare instances in which Woolverton stays close to Carroll’s style in the dialogue, it produces some quite poetical moments.
Its script might be weak, but Alice’s visual effects, however, don’t falter: they’re stunning. The computer-generated sets are wildly imaginative, beautiful and real fun to discover - as for instance, Time’s clock-shaped palace, or his series of watches representing the living and the dead. The lush, brightly coloured, costumes designed by Colleen Atwood are also a spectacular achievement.
There are also other things to appreciate: Anne Hathaway is a pleasure to watch as the White Queen. Her over-mannerisms are the kind of subtle humour that could have made Through the Looking Glass a great film, had there been more of it, and less of everything else. There is also Andrew Scott's amusing appearance as an enraged doctor eager to have Alice lobotomised. And Baron Cohen cuts an entertaining figure as Time (he proclaims his lines with a heavy German accent), even if his character's humour does get a tad repetitive. The film is also one of Alan Rickman's final appearances on screen (as Absolem), and it's a tug at the heartstrings to hear his familiar voice.
Alice Through the Looking Glass is, all in all, a disappointment, but there are thing to enjoy, from its visual effects, to cast performances, and occasionally well-pitched humour. It’s not wonderland, but it’s a trip to somewhere else all the same.