Saturday, May 25, 2024

Review // Alice Through the Looking Glass

First Published:

[projekktor id=’24188′]

With 2010’s Alice In Wonderland director Tim Burton took on the task of turning a meandering and poetic fantasy story into an emotionally engaging motion picture. Pay tribute to the beloved piece of literature – I imagine Disney execs telling him – but change it enough that it won’t scare the kids. Whether Burton was successful or not depends on who you ask, but the film certainly made a boatload of money; enough to spur Disney into adapting Lewis Carroll’s even more meandering, virtually plotless Alice Through The Looking Glass. Though Burton slips into the producer role on the newest, letting James Bobin (Muppets Most Wanted) take the helm, his touch is still evident in the constant deluge of otherworldly creatures and settings, the broad characters smeared with makeup, and Helena Bonham Carter.

If your only frame of reference coming into the movie are the books, then you may be confused to find Alice captaining a British trade ship in the film’s opening scene. Surrounded by pirates, Alice and her crew make a daring escape over some rocky shoals, eluding the pirates and heading back to Merry Old England. It’s a fun scene, and could be a set up for an Alice/Pirates of the Caribbean cross-over in the future (maybe the Mad Hatter just switched up his makeup and moved South!) Unfortunately, when Alice docks The Wonder back in England, things ain’t so merry after all. She quickly discovers that the dastardly Lord Ascot – still upset that Alice declined his marriage proposal and baffled by the fact that a woman would rather be a sea captain than a gentleman’s wife – is threatening to evict her mother if she doesn’t hand over her late father’s ship. Boy do I ever hate that Lord Ascot!  After a fight with her mother at a party, Alice runs off into the large estate, finding a quiet study and soon stepping through a mirror (something we’ve all wanted to do at a party).

Suddenly, we’re back in Wonderland! Or Underland? Are they two different places? Who knows! Either way, Alice is soon reunited with all of her kooky friends from the first film, the hare, the dog, Tweedledee and his brother, Anne Hathaway, you know the gang. The only person missing is the Mad Hatter who, we discover, has been suffering a terrible bout of depression after finding an old hat in the dirt. A quick visit to his hat-shaped house (this guys loves hats) reveals that he still believes his large Weasley-like family is alive somewhere, and the little hat is actually the first hat he ever made! Alice tries to be a good friend and convince him that his family is dead, but the Hatter insists. So off she goes to pay a visit to Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) in his golden clock castle. Alice is searching for the Chronosphere, a time travelling device that she plans to use to stop the terrible Jabberwocky attack that separated the Hatter from his family.

Soon, Chronosphere in hand, Alice is back in the Hatter’s childhood watching his father chuck his first ever hat into the trash because no son of his is going to make frilly little dandy hats! She also discovers the source of the Red Queen Iracebeth’s (Helena Bonham Carter) resentment towards her sister the Mirana (Anne Hathaway). Like most problems, it’s all about tarts. Each event creates another problem and sends Alice deeper into the past in an effort to stop them. All the while Time is hot on Alice’s heels, desperate to stop her before she accidentally wipes out the past or future.

This time-hopping narrative may sound confusing, but the film moves forward with such energy and enthusiasm that we rarely have a moment to stop and consider what the heck is going on. Instead we’re soaring over a swelling ocean of memories or following clockwork minions as they morph into…bigger clockwork minions and…fix an even bigger clock? There are a lot of clocks. This forward inertia is a blessing, because through all the chaos there is a nagging suspicion that nothing really makes a whole lot of sense. Heck, that’s probably the aspect of the film that stays truest to the source material. It’s a non-stop deluge of CGI eye candy. And while the production design is undeniably nice to look at, it all ends up feeling like a long, and soulless exercise. Even Alice’s Wonderland pals are reduced to simple sight gags instead of fleshed out characters.

The cause of this hollow feeling comes from the fact that Alice’s central conflict – her refusal to bow to the expectations of “proper” society and her protectiveness over her father’s legacy – is largely covered in quick bookends around a sprawling origin story for the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter. Seriously, in all of Wonderland the two people who’s emotional well-being we’re supposed to be worried about are the crazy guy and the lady with the giant head? It doesn’t help that Depp and Bonham-Carter are both playing such caricatures that when they suddenly turn sentimental it almost puts your teeth on edge. I was more moved by the Red Queen’s vegetable guard bemoaning “she ate my snozzle” than I was by anything involving these two characters.

That said, the kids are sure to love it. It’s a mad-cap romp through a bright and colourful world populated by crazy critters of all description. It also teaches us about the importance of family (finally Disney) and being true to your friends. Mia Wasikowska is delightful as always, and Sacha Baron Cohen provides some good chuckles as the surprisingly nuanced villain. It’s not a waste of time, but it’s certainly no wonder.

Reviewed by Evan Arppe.

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