Film Review: Alice Through the Looking Glass
In 2016, James Bobin released Alice Through the Looking Glass, loosely based on Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll. Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen, Rhys Ifans, Matt Lucas, Lindsay Duncan, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Barbara Windsor, Paul Whitehouse, and Matt Vogel, the film has grossed $103.2 million at the box office as of May 31.
When Alice returns home from a three year voyage, she finds much has changed with Hamish having taken over his father’s company. Following a discussion where he divulges his plans to have Alice sell him her father’s ship in exchange for her family home, Alice follows a butterfly she recognizes as Absolem through a mirror in which she returns to Underland. There, the Mad Hatter believes his family is still alive and is dying because no one believes him. Now, Alice must travel through time to save the Mad Hatter.
Alice Through the Looking Glass is essentially the sequel that nobody wanted to the film that nobody asked for, even though Alice in Wonderland was pretty decent. As a whole, this film is essentially a poorly done mess with not a whole lot going for it. For one, the plot is a generic and bland time travel story where Alice learns that she can’t change the past, but that she can learn from it. Through all this Alice not only learns that Mad Hatter was telling the truth and that his family is still alive imprisoned by the Red Queen in what was once an ant farm, but that she’s essentially the cause of what made Underland so crazy. Her stealing the Chronosphere caused the Red Queen’s head to become enlarged, caused the Red Queen to become evil and made it so the Mad Hatter and March Hare turn into their insane selves. Despite all its faults, the first film still plopped Alice into a world where madness and insanity was normal and where she had to realize the impossible was indeed possible. However, with Alice’s antics in traveling through time to find the Mad Hatter’s family, she ends up being the cause of Underland’s madness. In effect, it robs Wonderland of its wonder. It’s a place where the illogical and madness has no reason, it’s just there because that’s what the place is. This film takes that away and gives a logical reason for the happenings in an illogical and unreasonable place of insanity.
The middle of the film also presents Alice as having come back and is in an insane asylum. It would have been a good chance to get some exposition and character growth between Alice and her mother. However, it’s a wasted scene as it only provides a bit of action and then never gets mentioned ever again.
Then there’s the ending. Time is completely frozen because Alice stole the Chronosphere and didn’t get it back in time, failing to even toss it back onto its pedestal. It results in very beautiful visuals with all of Underland just frozen in one moment forever. However, the film proceeds to break the very rules of what just happened and have a spark occur between the Chronosphere and its pedestal where the former is able to be drawn to the latter. It shouldn’t work that way though because time is frozen. It feels like the filmmakers wanted to have Alice not make it and then the day be saved by an illogical inconsistency simply for cheap suspense as well has having some impressive visuals.
Now, to be fair, the visuals are probably the best part of the film. The Ocean of Time is incredibly visually appealing as is everything inside Time’s domain. What’s really interesting is that Tim Burton was a producer on this film instead of being in the director’s chair like he was in the first film. While the first film’s visuals were great, they were better off in that one film because they matched the story. Here, Alice is traveling throughout different time periods in Underland, which lends itself to the fantastic colorfulness that Wonderland had in the 1951 animated film.
Another good aspect to the film was Cohen’s acting as Time. He’s very obviously enjoying the role, having a lot of fun with the reactions to all the time puns that are thrown at the character along with just how silly the character itself is. Time also has the only good characterization in the film as it’s actually consistent throughout the film. He’s takes the time to actually listen to Alice and give her an adequate explanation as to why she can’t use the Chronosphere and then gets understandably annoyed and angry because she steals it, thereby running the risk of destroying himself. Further, when the Red Queen becomes the threat, he stops seeing Alice as the enemy and sees the other that way instead.
Everyone else has pretty awful characterization, especially when it comes to Alice. In the real world, Alice is always one step ahead and hatching plans to make the impossible possible, such as how she acts in the first scene of the film. She heads for some incredibly shallows straits and gets the idea to make her ship list to get through them and make it so the pirate junks can’t follow them. Again, it happens in the aforementioned insane asylum scene where she escapes. However, all of this disappears in Underland where she not only doesn’t have any idea what she’s doing, but she can’t think of a plan to save her life and never thinks anything through.
This film could have been so much better but it wasn’t and is incredibly apparent.