Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland hit the screens back in 2010, and the film was successful and popular enough that the powers that be (i.e. Disney) deemed it worthy of making the sequel. The original film paid mostly lip service to the original Carroll, keeping the characters, mostly, but presenting a whole new plot with an older Alice, and all of it in typical crazy, topsy turvy Burton style. The new film, Alice Through the Looking Glass, pays about as much attention to the original story as the first one did, but this time Burton isn’t at the helm. Does it affect the film any? Let’s find out.
Alice Through The Looking Glass takes place three years after the first film, and Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now a captain on her father’s merchant ship, The Wonder. Upon returning to London, she finds that her old suitor, Hamish, has taken the family home as surety for the ship, and offers Alice a job as a clerk. Naturally, this rankles the adventure-minded lass, who escapes through a mirror back into Underland, led by Absolem (Alan Rickman in his last role). Here, she finds that Hatter (Johnny Depp) is dying: he feels the regret of a bad separation from his family who died in a Jabberwock attack. With help from the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), Alice must go to the home of Time (Sacha Baron Cohen), and find a way to save Hatter’s family in the past by using the Chronosphere, while avoiding the evil ministrations of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter).
While the action obviously focuses on Alice and her adventures with the
Tardis DeLorean Chronosphere, the runaway stars of the film are most definitely Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. The interplay between the two is as fun to watch as it is funny. Cohen is also given some decently funny lines to work with. Although he’s not a traditional villain per se, he’s still a strong antagonist. Depp’s character on the other hand, while still entertaining, is a bare shadow of his former self. This is understandable given the character’s role, but something about the performance is definitely un-Depp-like. I do understand that the acting has to fit within the frame of the narrative, but it seems a bit of a waste of talent, especially after seeing how strong Depp’s character was in the first film. While Bobin makes a valiant attempt at emulating Burton, it’s abundantly clear that Burton is not at the helm of this film. Like Depp’s character, the direction is a shadow of its former self.
The majority of the film exists as a huge, sprawling CGI space, and it’s colourful and bright and undeniably CGI. Time’s towers, for instance, both internal and external show too much work laid upon computer artists. Time’s ticky-tocky minions are particularly egregiously CGI, as cute as they are. Other effects, such as the Red Queen’s oversized head, are simply not as awe-inspiring as they were in the first film. For CGI fests like this, you can’t just carry the ante: you have to go bigger and better to keep your audiences interested.
The story itself, as I mentioned before, is less an adaptation of the work and more a case of Alice in name only. Alice Kingsleigh on the screen shares so little in common with Carroll’s Alice that only the existence of the supporting characters lend any credence to her being Alice at all. I don’t have a problem with this, because we’ve trod Carroll’s works flat by now, and it’s refreshing to see a highly imaginative derivative work take what the books gave and make it into something new. Time, as Alice’s frenemy, makes for an interesting character as a study of someone attempting to shoehorn a new character into an existing narrative framework. Does it work? I can’t be certain here that it does any justice to Carroll’s imagination, sadly, as funny as Cohen’s portrayal is.
Maybe with this film it’s a case of thinking too deeply about matters. Is it an enjoyable trip through the tides of time? Well, yes. It helps a lot if you take a certain perverse delight in puns using the word “time”, because there are a lot of them. Will Alice Through the Looking Glass win awards like the first film? Doubtful. There’s just not enough in this film that’s new and exciting enough. Also, it’s been five years since the last film. And the worst part? No futterwacken. I liked the futterwacken.