The problem with Alice Through the Looking Glass is that it has to live up to the imagination of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010) – which went on to make a massive 1 billion at the box office – and deal with the divisive reaction that film received. It has a lot to live up to and, for some, to make up for. The film from director James Bobin and writer Linda Woolverton does neither, sadly. However, that does not make it a bad film. In fact, if allowed to take it for a movie on its own, Alice Through the Looking Glass is quite delightful. Filled with extraordinary fantasy and fantastical creatures and adventures, the film has a huge, warm heart at its center focusing on themes of friendship, determination and forgiveness. In many ways, Bobin’s follow up is superior to the Burton film even though by comparison it feels so much smaller in scope and ambition. Mia Wasikowska is marvelous as Alice and Johnny Depp is far more tolerable as the Looking Glass portrayal of The Mad Hatter. Helena Bonham Carter steals the film as the Red Queen while Sacha Baron Cohen proves to be a welcomed addition to the cast as Time. The film looks spectacular, has a well constructed tale and is quick paced and imaginative. Unfortunately, the fun to found in this movie will likely be overlooked and wrongfully dismissed.
Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) returns to Wonderland to save her dear friend the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) who is drowning in depression because he believes his departed family is still alive and no one believes him. When Alice too falls victim to the impossible – something even she vowed never to do – Hatter Hightopp drifts to near death. Mirana (Anne Hathaway), Tweedledee & Tweeldedum (Matt Lucas), Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) and the rest of Hatter’s zany friends convince Alice to go back into the past to save the Hatter’s family, the Hightopps. To do so she must steal the Chronosphere, a device owned by Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) itself. Soon, Alice is traveling throughout Wonderland history with Time hot on her trail and the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) ready to cut off her head once she returns. Can Alice save Tarrant Hightopp and Wonderland? Let the fun begin.
The returning cast, both physical and vocal, all slip back into their roles as if no time has passed. Alice is portrayed as a grown woman now, the master of her father’s vessel returning from a trip to China facing off pirates, storms and corporate takeovers. The opening of the film displays her as an action hero, a leader, highly intelligent and fit to battle the pirates at her bow. Mia Wasikowska is equally comfortable commanding the film as an action star as she is stepping through mirrors and facing off the Red Queen. The introduction of Alice sets her up as a character that has grown from the past adventure all on her own and is now ready to grow even further with the help of this adventure. The film trips on its own plot for a bit while it establishes that, while she was away for nearly three years, Hamish Ascot has taken over the company financing her trips and holds the deed to her mother’s home. He wants to exchange the deed for her father’s ship. While it is all important to the story and the plot, these proceedings slow down the film right off the bat while Absolem (Alan Rickman) flutters around teasing the audience of a more colorful story to come. Once Alice is coerced to step through the looking glass, the story immediately ramps up with color, intensity and imagination – and interest. Before long, Alice finds her way back to the Hatter’s tea party setting; however, Tarrant (Depp) is nowhere to be found while all the other characters are gathered: Mirana (Hathaway), the Tweedles (Lucas), the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), the Dormouse (Barbara Windsor), Bayard (Timothy Spall) and the Cheshire Cat (Fry).
But where is The Mad Hatter? Alice finds Tarrant hiding away, frail, sickly and dour, fretting over his family who most believe are deceased. Johnny Depp is given quite a lot to do with the Hatter that is far different than Alice in Wonderland. The film also treats its audience with a variety of Hatters throughout Alice’s adventures through time. The story leaves him in the present depressed and dying, distraught that the one person he hoped would believe his story that his family survived the attack of the Jabberwocky. The moment Alice utters that phrase that challenges her character and nearly destroys the Hatter – “It is impossible” – is the point the film defines itself in a variety of ways and Depp’s performance cements the impact of Alice’s words. Thankfully the film is allowed to present a more formidable and lively – and familiar – version of the Hatter as Alice races back in time to save the Hightopps. The contrast of Hatter’s character is interesting and fun while it has the most impact as young Hatter (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) presents his first hat to his disapproving father. But, never fear, Depp is not chained to a dour and pale Hatter, he is provided the opportunity for revitalization during the film’s conclusion that is thrilling, satisfying and touching.
Alice, the Hatter and gang face a new threat with Alice Through the Looking Glass in the guise of Time himself portrayed by Sacha Baron Cohen. He is a wonderful addition to Wonderland even if it takes a little…time…to warm up to the German accent he decided to give the character. From time to time, it seems he is quoting and paroding Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the same instant, he gives the character a fair amount of pathos and depth as he both protects the fabric of time and pines for the love of the Red Queen. For a character who could easily serve a single purpose within the film, writer Linda Woolverton and Cohen provide Time with an interesting, rewarding and surprising arc for his character. And the director, James Bobin, finds the time to stop and have some fun with his character when he encounters a younger version of the Hatter and friends at an entertaining, whimsical, pun-filled tea party. Chuckles and snickers aplenty as he patiently waits for Hatter to give him the answer he desires, the location of Alice. Cohen’s Time is closer to Thenardier (Les Miserables) or Station Inspector (Hugo) than his more outrageous characters Borat, Bruno and that ilk. Good times.
Director James Bobin (Da Ali G Show, The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted) handles the fantasy elements of Alice Through the Looking Glass with ease and slick timing, but impresses more when Alice is involved with elements of her father’s ship during the introduction or when Alice is flying the Chronosphere through the ocean of time. He also caresses Johnny Depp’s distorted, highly characterized features to the point of uncomfortable admiration, illustrating the elaborate make-up designs for the character throughout the story. He also effectively turns Alice into an action hero, if not during her adventures in Wonderland, then most definitely during the re-introduction of Mia Wasikowska’s character in the beginning of the film. Alice Through the Looking Glass is, in many ways, a superior film to Alice in Wonderland as it is allowed to actually explore some of the main characters, their motives and their interactions with other characters. Fans of the variety of players found in the Lewis Carroll arsenal of familiar and much beloved characters may be left longing for more as the focus is primarily on Alice, the Hatter, the Red & White Queens and Time. Alice Through the Looking Glass lacks the broad ambition in scope and imagination of its predecessor but contains a solid, action-filled and heartfelt emotional story that is enchanting and thrilling providing an exhilarating time at the theater.
Alice Through the Looking Glass (3.8 / 5)