The 2010 re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland made over $1 billion worldwide despite having mixed reviews, which is slightly shocking. It was a 3D spectacle following in the footsteps of Avatar and directed by Tim Burton at a time when no one thought he could do anything wrong, especially when he was teamed up with Johnny Depp. If you’ve listened to last week’s movie review on our DIS POP podcast, you’ve already heard my displeasure for Alice in Wonderland, so I’ll keep this brief. It was an awful movie that was somewhat visually interesting at parts, but the majority of it looked like overdone CGI garbage with some of the flattest acting from professionals and a horrendous story penned from the hands of Linda Woolverton, who is also behind the swill that is Maleficent.
So clearly I walked into Alice Through The Looking Glass with some bias, but I actually walked away surprised. Despite being a critical failure and on its way to being a box office failure, Alice Through The Looking Glass isn’t half as bad as people are making it out to be. In fact, it’s actually a better movie than its predecessor. Still, harsh reviews are leading it to a $35 million Memorial Day opening weekend, which would be even less than the take from Disney’s box office disaster from the same weekend last year, Tomorrowland.
Alice Through The Looking Glass picks up a few years after the events of the first movie. Alice is returning home from China, where she was off doing impossible things, only to find that things have changed drastically in the time she has been gone. Lord Ascot has died and his son Hamish has taken over, and he has made a deal with Alice’s mother to buy Alice’s ship and in return they get to keep their house and Alice will go to work as a clerk. Of course all of this happens at a party, just like in the first movie, and a distressed Alice ends up following Absolem, the ex-Caterpillar turned Butterfly, through a mirror into Underland.
Once in Underland, Alice comes to find that the Mad Hatter is dying. The Hatter discovers that his family, who was thought to be slain by the Red Queen’s Jabberwocky, may actually be alive despite no one believing him, including Alice. The only way to save the Hatter is for Alice to obtain the chronsosphere (a time machine) from Time and go back into the past to try and change certain, critical events. However, it isn’t that easy as Alice finds that the past cannot be changed, only learned from, and she could potentially destroy Underland itself with her actions.
Here’s my take on the good and bad of Alice Through The Looking Glass:
Tim Burton smartly decided to step away as director of Alice Through The Looking Glass and pass over the reigns to Disney’s Muppet man, James Bobin. This was a good move on Disney’s part. Bobin clearly doesn’t have as many films under his belt as Burton (only The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted), but he does have a lot of television work on his resume and the shows he has worked on have been really funny. Bobin co-created Flight of the Conchords with Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, in case anyone doubts his chops. While Wonderland was weirdly absurd, it was never at any point funny. The only funny part was Depp’s Mad Hatter finally doing the Futterwacken, and when I say it was funny, I really mean it is ironically funny that Burton could care so little that he would put in such an embarrassingly bad sequence. Yes, I know he only made Wonderland so he’d have a chance to finally flesh out Frankenweenie, but he could’ve put in at least a tiny bit of effort. Anyways, this is about Bobin. Bobin knows humor well and I have to believe that he let at least one of his actors go a bit off script to make the story funnier, and that leads to the next good thing about the movie.
Sacha Baron Cohen as Time
Cohen and Bobin first worked together on Da Ali G Show where Bobin helped Cohen create some of his classic characters like Borat. I’m sure that relationship helped Cohen get cast as Time in this movie and oh what a good choice he was. Time is the main comic relief in the movie and Cohen shines in the role. Some of the humor is on the dry side, but his perfect comedic timing drives most of his jokes home.
A lot of negative criticism is being directed towards the story of Looking Glass, but it isn’t nearly as bad as Wonderland. Looking Glass doesn’t have a very complex story at all and time traveling movies have been done how many times, but the story allows flat characters the chance to be fleshed out, which ended up being a good thing. Most importantly, the story of Looking Glass allows us to see where the Red Queen’s motivation comes from, as well as how she ended up with her rather large head. Although unnecessary, it’s hard to argue that the sequel does a better job of actually caring about the characters thanks to the story. Plus, we get to see Crispin Glover’s Knave of Hearts again in a way that I hope was inspired by not wanting another Back to the Future Part 2 style lawsuit.
I’m going to try to keep this as short as possible since it was my only real big issue with the movie. The look of the film is very similar to that of Wonderland, but brighter and honestly, a bit prettier. I know that’s because things changed once the Red Queen was banished and everyone could be happy again, but it’s more or less likely due to technology being better. That being said, it is still just way too much. When there is a discussion about too much CGI, the Alice movies should be cited as examples of what not to do. Seeing this movie in 3D, the intended way to see the film, makes it painfully more obvious. All of the non-CGI created characters stick out in the environments like a sore thumb. Instead of weaving seamlessly into the scenes, Alice, the Hatter, and others look as if they are just standing in front of a green screen and the world was built behind them, which makes perfect sense since that is what happened. Audiences bought into this type of film six years ago, but things have changed and people want these visual effects to feel more real. Alice Through The Looking Glass fails abysmally in this category.
Whether you are part of the cult of Alice or just an average Disney fan, there is plenty to find amusing in Alice Through The Looking Glass. Sure, it isn’t the best re-imagining of a Disney movie and had to follow two of Disney’s best attempts at bringing its animated classics to life – The Jungle Book and Cinderella. Also, it doesn’t help that it has to follow the trailer of the highly anticipated Beauty and the Beast in the previews. If you were a fan of Alice in Wonderland, then the added humor and character development makes Alice Through The Looking Glass worth seeing in theaters, but if you’re just a casual fan I’d recommend waiting for this to hit Netflix or Blu-Ray.