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We last heard from Alice in 2010, when Director Tim Burton dazzled audiences and underwhelmed critics with “Alice in Wonderland,” a 3D film that earned 1-billion dollars worldwide. Will this box office magic happen again with Burton as producer and James Bobin directing?
Bobin comes to “Alice Through The Looking Glass” with a couple of Muppet movies under his belt and handily takes the audience back to where Burton left them. Screenwriter Linda Woolverton pulls from Lewis Carroll’s source material, as she did for “Alice in Wonderland.” This time the result is a modicum of story stretched over an enormous frame of action and fantasy. “Alice Through The Looking Glass” (again in 3D) will not bore you, because it is too busy trying to engage you. Very. Very. Busy.
The film opens with Alice Kinsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) at the helm of her late father’s ship, the Wonder. It’s 1875 and she’s busy pursuing her dreams on the high seas. When she pulls into a London port, she discovers her mother has leveraged the ship in a dubious deal with Alice’s former suitor, Hamish (Leo Bill). This puts Alice in a state of dread.
In no time she dashes from real life and finds herself back in Wonderland (or Underland) with the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and her entourage of curious friends, among them Tweedledee & Tweedledum (Matt Lucas), the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), and the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry).
The queen and company are concerned about the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), who has slipped into a serious funk due to overly-complex issues regarding his father and the fate of his family, last seen on the losing end of a Jabberwocky battle. Depp is all dressed up in the usual Technicolor drag and makeup, though he doesn’t seem to have much to do but wallow about.
It’s Sacha Baron Cohen, in the role of Time, who lords over most of the film. He and Alice meet after the queen dispatches her to look for Hatter’s family. Alice does this with a healthy amount of time travel. Yes, time travel. Ugh!
Alice must go back in time and save Hatter’s family from a perilous end, thus rescuing Hatter from a world of despair. Time travel takes up way too much of the story. Alice bolts from present to past, and then to another past, all while inside of a golden chariot called the “Chronosphere” which she stole from Cohen’s character, Time himself.
The Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) also wants the Chronosphere for her own selfish reasons. Carter offers a delicious amount of evil and hysteria as she did in the last go round. However, a lot of time is spent trying to tell us why the Red Queen hates the White Queen, and how the Red Queen became the peculiar, misshaped character that she is. All the while, through time travel, Alice encounters younger and younger versions of the queens, Hatter, and his family, The Hightopps.
Wasikowska is formidable as Alice, a credible role model for young viewers. However, it’s not long before Alice and her time travel shenanigans throw the whole mission into peril, leaving a slim chance of her saving Hatter’s family and restoring Hatter’s pluck.
The pace of the film is astonishing. There is little time to pause and take it all in. The exchanges between Alice and Hatter are fun, as is a scene with Time and Hatter at a tea party. Perhaps a healthier dose of literary wonder from Carroll’s books is in order? It would not hurt to slow things down and allow the characters (and the audience) a chance to breathe and be themselves.
The real heroes here are at work behind the camera, especially Dan Hennah (production designer), Danny Elfman (music), and Colleen Atwood (costume design). “Alice Through The Looking Glass” wouldn’t be as cohesive without the alternate realities they introduce with their talents. The film is a fun and breezy ride that would, in no way, impress dedicated fans of Carroll’s classics.
“Alice Through The Looking Glass” is rated PG, but there is little here to offend. It likely earned this rating for its darkness and the rapid blitz of fantasy and action. Older kids will love the story and the wonder. Younger ones may simply be dazzled by the look of it.
Fantasy/Adventure, Rated PG
Run time: 113 minutes
(Photo credits: Disney)
This review also appears on GaysWithKids.com.