It’s been six years since Alice (Mia Wasikowska) took her first live action adventure in Wonderland in Tim Burton’s foray which kicked off the now yearly live action versions of classic Disney animated films. We find Alice is now a ship captain for some reason which isn’t really explained, that she’s made the ire of a wealthy sponsor named Hamish (Leo Bill) because she turned him down for marriage, and her mother (Lindsay Duncan) has put Alice in a precarious position by forcing Alice to trade her ship to this same sponsor so that they can keep their house for no reason that is explained past the fact that Alice’s mother feels being a ship’s captain is no job for a lady.
Enter Absalom (Alan Rickman) the once caterpillar, now butterfly, from Wonderland to show Alice that she can enter Wonderland again through the mirror in this sponsors home and that she needs to go, but again all for no reason. When she arrives she quickly discovers that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the person Alice is closest to in the whole world despite only meeting him once six years ago, is grumpy because he found a hat and that Alice needs to save him, though doing so could destroy the entire universe. This is not an auspicious start to the movie. I don’t expect logic and reason to be the defining factors in a Wonderland film, granted, but there still needs to be something that isn’t completely random to give the narrative an anchor of some kind, otherwise we’re just watching random things happen for random reasons, and that’s not acceptable even in a Wonderland story.
The questionable set up leads to a main story that is not quite so random, but is still based too largely on the opening elements that are. For some reason, Alice and the Mad Hatter are the two most important people in the entire world, even though the Hatter doesn’t do anything but have tea parties and sulk, and Alice hasn’t been around in ages, but we have to run with this for the story to make any sense.
If you do decide you can run with it, though, there are some amazing set pieces and performances to be seen here. The main plot involves time travel, which in conjunction with Wonderland really does have a lot of promise which was never entirely realized here, but Time is an actual person in Wonderland, and that person is played by Sacha Baron Cohen in a scene stealing performance. Helena Bonham Carter also returns as Iracebeth a.k.a The Red Queen and both her performance and subplot end up being the most pleasantly surprising aspects of Alice Through the Looking Glass after all is said and done.
That “after all is said and done” is of utmost importance to this film. After spending most the film rolling my eyes for fighting off drowsiness whenever Cohen or Carter weren’t on screen, the ending brought me back in. It’s not that rare to find an otherwise good film that is ruined by a poor ending, but Alice Through the Looking Glass is that exceedingly rare case where an otherwise dull, awkward movie is nearly saved by an ending that elevates all of the material leading up to it. While nothing that came earlier is any better explained as far as the plot is concerned, we find that everything that happened before was very important to the messages the movie is trying to pass on to us, and those messages are worthwhile, astute, and great lessons for the kids that are the target audience for this movie.
While I ultimately can’t recommend Alice Through the Looking Glass wholeheartedly, especially not in the theater, it really is a good study on how the whole of a film is more important than the individual pieces, the individual pieces are what get you to the point where you can enjoy the whole. As to whether kids would enjoy it, I think they will more than adults, but I saw the movie in a theater filled with children, and I didn’t hear one laugh or noise of any kind the entire time until the end credits started rolling and one little girl yelled loudly that she really had to go pee.
Rating: 4.8 out of 10