Six years after Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland scored Disney a billion-dollar worldwide box office, we’re granted a sequel, but as with the first installment, Alice Through the Looking Glass has frightfully little in common with the source material. Problem? Perhaps for the literary-minded (count me among them), but for the kids and pre-teens at whom the film is squarely aimed, the issue will be as fleeting a thing as the Chesire Cat.
Burton, content to stay on the sidelines as a producer this time, has turned the reins over to James Bobin (Muppets Most Wanted), and though the result is not nearly as Burtonian (Burton-esque?) as the original, Looking Glass is still a magical and exquisite trip.
Gone are the opening moments of the book that find Alice cutely playing with kittens in her parlor. Instead the film begins with Alice (Mia Wasikowska) braving a furious storm as a stout ship’s captain, trying to outrun pirates on the high seas. And it only gets wilder from there.
Before long (after a tiresome bit of exposition involving house liens and canceled expeditions) Alice does eventually make her way through the mirror and back to Wonderland, where she learns that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) has become the sad Hatter– convinced that his beloved family was done in by the Jabberwocky (though, alas, no mention is made of the creature’s “jaws that bite” or “claws that catch”). The Hatter trusts that Alice can find out the truth and maybe even bring his parents back to him.
The only way to do that, Alice discovers, is to go back in time… which naturally means finding Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen) and then stealing his Chronosphere to time travel and set things right.
The subsequent voyage is chock-full of fantasy and whimsy, as is a terrific subplot involving the formative years of the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). Bobin does everything he can to (successfully) keep up the pace and provide enough visual stimulation that even the most jaded of young audience-goers will stay rapt.
The screenplay by Linda Woolverton (Maleficent) may be plenty short on Carroll (actually, it’s entirely short on Carroll), but Looking Glass is a fun ride nonetheless. It’s also decidedly (and thankfully) less violent and intense than Wonderland was.
Depp, as in the original, seems to have been made to play the Mad Hatter (ditto Carter as the nefarious queen), and the supporting cast (or at least their voices) are sublime. It’s more than a little heartbreaking, however, to realize that Looking Glass marks the last time the velvety voice of Alan Rickman (to whom the film is dedicated) will be heard on screen.
It may have nothing to do with the original book, but Alice Through the Looking Glass still manages to come off as a snazzy and entertaining film, as long as you can just give in and not spend time wondering what happened to the classic tale.
Worth the 3D glasses?
As much time and effort went into making Looking Glass a visual, well, wonderland, I imagine donning the magical spectacles might actually be too much. It’s easy to imagine some folks (young and old alike) coming down with mild vertigo (or, at the very least, a doozy of a head-spin). The movie is plenty fine without the added dimension. And, I imagine, a little more enjoyable.