Lewis Carroll, author of the classic Alice books, said “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” The sequel to the 2010 film, Alice in Wonderland, faces this conundrum. Alice Through the Looking Glass doesn’t seem to know which way it’s going, clearly highlighting the absence of Tim Burton as director.
The Alice stories are quite dark in many ways, and there is no other way to describe Lewis Carroll’s stories as bizarre and (let’s be honest) fucked-up, albeit in a mesmerising, delicious way. They’re not exclusively children’s stories, and that’s why it’s so disappointing that Through the Looking Glass is childish, and has lost its magic.
When Alice Kingsley (Mia Wasikowska) returns home after captaining her father’s ship across the world, her former suitor, Hamish Ascott (Leo Bill) reveals Alice’s mother has landed herself in financial trouble, and unless Alice gives up her vessel, her mother will lose her home. Alice is furious, at both her mother and Hamish. While at a party hosted by Hamish, Alice sees the blue caterpillar, Absolem (voiced by the late Alan Rickman), who says she’s needed in Underland. She’s led through a mirror (looking glass) and reunited with the mad company of the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, but sans the Mad Hatter.
The White Queen, Mirana (Anne Hathaway), explains that Hatter (Johnny Depp) has gone into a deep depression and the troupe believes Alice will be able to cheer him up. But when Alice visits Hatter, he’s even madder than usual, rambling about how he believes his family, who were caught in a dragon attack in their village years ago, might still be alive. His reason: he found a small piece of a tiny hat he’d made for his father before they were caught in the flames. Despite Alice’s own mantra – that many things are not “impossible, merely un-possible” – she tells Hatter that it’s not possible that his family had survived.
When Hatter’s health begins to diminish, the White Queen makes an extreme suggestion. Alice must steal a time-travelling device called the Chronosphere from Time himself (Sasha Baron Cohen), and go back in the past to the day when Hatter’s family was killed, save them, and thereby save her friend in the future. As everyone knows from countless movies and series and books, when you mess with time, you could tear apart the world. On her journey Alice again encounters the evil Red Queen/Queen of Hearts, Mirana’s sister Iracebeth (Helena Bonham Carter).
Despite the colourful visuals, the film feels as washed out as the Hatter when he fades away. It’s lost its magic. It’s not the fault of Wasikowska (I’m a big fan), and Sasha Baron Cohen is entertaining as Time. Everything else, even the previously marvellous character of the Hatter, feels empty. There was such a sadistic delight in Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen in Wonderland, that’s been lost in the sequel. It’s a small relief that the screen time for Anne Hathaway’s grating White Queen, with her irritating ballet-like arm movements, is minimal.
The film has an interesting feminist theme – Alice is stubborn and won’t be told that she can’t determine her own future simply because she’s a woman. But director James Bobbin has missed an opportunity to turn the fluff that is Through the Looking Glass into something with meaning, even an understated message. Disney did it so well with another recent live-action adaptation of another classic, The Jungle Book.
It comes down to the director. Tim Burton lent the first Alice film his characteristic weird and wonderful touch. Bobbins (who directed two Muppets movies) simply doesn’t have the imagination to take the audience down the rabbit hole into another psychedelic adventure. The film is without personality. You may want to see it on the silver screen if you’re a fan of 3D. Otherwise, wait for the DVD.
Director: James Bobbin
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen
Rating: 3 out of 5
SA release date: 27 May 2016