Following the success of Tim Burton’s 2010 take on Alice in Wonderland, a sequel was inevitable, although this time James Bobin takes the directorial reins from Burton. Appropriately, this movie borrows from the title of the second Alice book, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (aka Through the Looking-Glass), and as such is based more so off of that than Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Having read both of the original Lewis Carroll books and found Tim Burton’s take interesting, I was curious to see what would be done with this movie, even knowing from the trailers that the plot would be very different (having played American McGee’s take though, I was more okay with the idea). Walking away from this sequel, I thought it was worth the Time.
After traveling the world for 3 years on her father’s ship, the Wonder, Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) returns home only to find that, due to legal circumstances occurring while she was gone, Hamish (Leo Bill), whom she had refused to marry, essentially has her home hostage in exchange for the ship. Not wishing to give up the boat, Alice exits a conversation with her mother (Lindsay Duncan) to blow off some steam. During this, Absolem (Alan Rickman), now a butterfly, leads Alice into a room where he enters a mirror (also called a looking glass, as in the title). Once Alice enters the mirror to prevent Hamish from finding her, she ends up back in Underland, where she must console the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), who believes his family survived the Jabberwocky attack years prior to the events of the previous movie. Despite her beliefs in impossibility, Alice believes this to be impossible, and is forced out of the Hatter’s house. With no other option, Alice, as suggested by the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) has to seek help from an unlikely person: Time (Sacha Baron Cohen), the personification of the concept of time.
As mentioned above, the film’s plot drastically deviates from the book it is named after, although the 2010 Tim Burton movie and its story would make a straight adaptation a little difficult, since this continuity assumes that the Queen of Hearts (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) and the Red Queen (Through the Looking-Glass) are the same character (they are not, though it is a widespread misconception). Rather, the story involves time travel, which is usually associated with creative bankruptcy, save for series like Back to the Future where time travel is the central focus. Though this may be off-putting for some, the given approach to time travel logic makes some amount of sense (only Alice and Time are able to move freely, otherwise seeing your past self will destroy all of space-time in relation to Underland, though time-travelling at all will put Time itself and himself in jeopardy) and I give the film makers credit for staying consistent with their logic and weaving it in with the previous movie’s events and this movie’s overall message about learning from the past. For the sake of notability, however, I will point out that there is one scene that is more or less directly adapted from the movie’s namesake, and that is the scene where Alice enters the mirror world for the first time.
The acting in this movie is good, with returning actors playing their characters well. Sacha Baron Cohen, playing the original character of Time, displays that his performance in Hugo was not just a fluke; though he is best known for acting silly, it is evident that he is able to put in a dramatic performance when necessary, and this is one such instance. Notably, this is also the final acting role for the late Alan Rickman prior to his unfortunate passing earlier this year. While he reprises his role as the blue caterpillar/butterfly, named Absolem in this series, his character does not have many lines, either due to him not having very many lines in the first place or the filmmakers working with what had already been recorded before his death. In any case, his final performance was still good for what made it in, and the movie is dedicated to his memory.
The visual effects are really well-done, especially in regards to the visualization of time travel, which is presumably where a lot of the budget went. The animated characters interact very seamlessly with the live-action characters, as do any visual effects on the actors themselves. Of note is the character Time, who is seemingly mechanical, and so the effects are done to where you actually believe it. There are also the assistants to Time, the Seconds, which fit well with the well-rendered clock aesthetic of Time’s domain. In general, the lighting is also noticeably a little brighter than in the previous movie, likely due to the fact that it’s not directed by Tim Burton.
For what it is, Alice Through the Looking Glass is actually pretty enjoyable. The story doesn’t really get too complicated, even with the time travel shenanigans, and some events make more sense when you factor in the Tim Burton movie and its flashback sequences. Admittedly, it does edge close to being a Johnny Depp movie, as per usual with a lot of movies he appears in, but that’s likely due to star power and likely won’t be an issue for Johnny Depp fans. I would recommend this movie to fans of Alice in Wonderland that enjoyed the 2010 movie, and in fact I would highly suggest watching that one first for the sake of story, though there are understandably some purists out there, for whom this movie will most likely not appeal. In any case, it’s interesting to see someone try something new with the story, and it’s likely to get a continuation if it does well enough, however I’m not sure what they can call it since there’s only so many books to borrow names from (unless you also maybe count the original manuscript, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground).