ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS IS BRIGHT AND PRETTY BUT LACKS EVERYTHING THAT MADE THE ORIGINAL MEMORABLE WHILE FAILING TO BRING ANYTHING NEW TO THE FRANCHISE
Director: James Bobin
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen, Matt Lucas, Rhys Ifans, Stephen Fry and Lindsay Duncan
Studio: Walt Disney
Running Time: 1 Hr, 53 Mins
There was a lot to like about 2010’s Alice in Wonderland. Disney and director Tim Burton successfully brought Lewis Carroll’s fairy tale land and the characters that inhabited it to vibrant, brilliant life. Then there was Johnny Depp’s quirky, occasionally scary portrayal of the Mad Hatter (who occasionally deviated from his trademark benign lunacy to become a fearsome fighter with a deep Scottish brogue). But perhaps the most likeable element was Alice herself, who over the course of the movie grew from an uncertain, grief stricken teenager who was on the verge of being pimped off by her well meaning mother (destined to spend her remaining years in a loveless marriage, tending her husband’s digestive “blockage”), to an armour wearing, sword wielding warrior who saved Wonderland by slaying the terrifying and all powerful Jabberwocky.
Unfortunately the same can’t be said for its sequel, Alice Through The Looking Glass.
After captaining her late father’s merchant ship The Wonder for three adventure filled years at sea, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns home to discover that, in her absence, her mother’s been forced into a compromising financial situation. She soon finds herself facing a dreary life, barren of adventure and courage, at the same hands of the digestively challenged boor she was almost married to in the first film. All of that is pushed to the back burner when she’s summoned back to Wonderland, this time to save the Hatter (Johnny Depp), whose grief over his family (killed by the Jabberwocky years prior) has poisoned his mind and soul. Alice soon finds herself literally racing Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) to discover the fate of the Hatter’s family.
Along the way she learns a number of secrets (some of them uncomfortable) about her closest friends and the history of Wonderland. And in the midst of all this, the swollen headed, execution happy Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has returned from her exile to take revenge on her sister the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), Alice and everyone else responsible for her defeat.
The visual effects and world building in Looking Glass easily live up to those of its predecessor and even surpass them on a number of occasions. Depp’s performance remains the best in the movie (though he’s more subdued and given less opportunity to try and salvage the film this time around) though Bonham Carter chews up more then her fair share of scenery reprising her role as the Red Queen. And hearing Alan Rickman’s voice-even for only for two lines-was a gentle but definite tug on the heartstrings (the movie was dedicated to his memory). There are even a few clever little wrinkles in the time hopping story, but unfortunately none of it is enough to elevate Looking Glass above a visually attractive but emotionally empty sequel.
One of the strengths of the original Alice was the sense of discovery. Not everything in Alice was new, but it was at least novel, and seeing Wonderland through an amnesiac Alice’s eyes (who had forgotten her first visit, made when she was a small girl years before) allowed a unique sense of wonder (pardon the pun). Telling the original fairly tale in hindsight and through flashbacks while also telling the new story was an inventive plot device that somehow worked. Alice in Wonderland was a successful exercise in unique movie storytelling, something rare for a live action adaptation of a fairy tale. The sequel lacks that inventiveness and it’s attempts to try and embrace larger concepts (particularly the bonds and demands of family and the need to sacrifice for and forgive our loved ones) fall flat.
Looking Glass is neither as ambitious nor fresh as Wonderland. It isn’t a bad movie, but it isn’t a good one either and it’s certainly not on the same level as Wonderland. The best way to think of it is as an amusing diversion that will be forgotten shortly after you’ve seen it (unlike Wonderland, there’s very little that’s memorable about it). If anything, it’ll put you in the mood to watch the original again.