Editor’s Notes: Alice Through the Looking Glass is out on in its respective home video format October 18th.
Alice Through the Looking Glass (Walt Disney Studios) is a follow-up to Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice In Wonderland. Rather than go directly back to the Lewis Carroll source material, screenwriter Linda Wolverton has combined some of Carroll’s best-known characters with a plot about a son trying to reconnect with his family, a bit of science-fiction time travel, and eye-filling visuals made possible through the magic of computer-generated imagery.
As the film opens, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is literally captain of her own ship, just returning from a long voyage. She prides herself on her independence in 19th-century England, which was none too accepting of imaginative, intelligent, self-sufficient young women. Her jilted suitor, Hamish (Leo Bill), is putting financial pressure on her mother (Lindsay Duncan), threatening to take over Alice’s ship or her mother’s house.
Before long, Alice passes through a huge mirror back into Wonderland, where she learns that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is nuttier than ever, thinking that his family is still alive even though everyone else believes they were killed long ago by the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). To help her old friend, Alice visits Time (personified by Sacha Baron Cohen) to get hold of the Chronosphere, a gold ball that turns into a time machine, and cross the Ocean of Time to go back and alter the course of events.
While planning this journey, she is reunited with White Queen Mirana (Anne Hathaway), who harbors a dark secret. She also encounters Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas), the Cheshire Cat, Humpty Dumpty, and the Dormouse, but they are on hand more as a nod to Carroll than as plot ingredients. The CGI work with Tweedledum and Tweedledee is exceptionally good, but they are given so little to do that the effort is wasted. Their dialogue, intended to be amusing, falls flat and they just sort of hang around while the manic Alice races though time.
Ms. Wasikowska makes a rather dull Alice even though the character is scripted to be bright, forward-thinking, courageous, and able to handle herself well in both the reality of 1875 London and the fantastical world behind the looking glass. This is yet another attempt to give a well-known Victorian-era literary character a feminist sensibility. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but the screenplay should justify it. This Alice is driven more by emotion than by logic, undermining the character’s reformulation.
The brightest moments are provided by Mr. Cohen, who specializes in broadly drawn characters. His Time takes his job seriously, of course, which often results in embarrassing lapses and silly outbursts. Here, too, however, Cohen’s talents are not fully exploited by a script surprisingly devoid of whimsy.
Ms. Bonham Carter’s Red Queen, with bobble-sized head and heart- shaped lips, is a wonderfully quirky creation, and her biting comments are delivered with just the right intonation to elicit chuckles.
There are wrong-headed choices, such as mechanical enemies of Alice that look like Transformers. Is this a half-hearted attempt to engage young male viewers?
Though briskly paced and less than two hours, the movie feels endless because the characters aren’t engaging enough for the viewer to care. Director James Bobin often makes even chases seem dull.
For a movie geared to young viewers, Alice Through the Looking Glass has too many storylines going on at the same time. The visuals never let up, so if you’re on board for being dazzled continuously by the latest achievements in special effects, you will not be disappointed. But if you demand that such sequences serve the story, you will be let down. Viewed in IMAX 3D, the movie does look and sound spectacular. But the experience is akin to reaching for that huge, magnificently wrapped package with the glorious red bow beneath the Christmas tree only to find a pair of socks inside. Alice Through the Looking Glass is glitter and pizazz with a hollow core.
Rated PG-13, Alice Through the Looking Glass is a catalog of the latest special effects encased in three different stories that eventually come together. Despite its lush costumes and production design, the picture is unsatisfying. Short on laughs, or even a clever quip or two, the movie is bloated. Where’s Lewis Carroll when you really need him?
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include a making-of featurette, behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the costumes, whimsical interview with Sacha Baron Cohen reflecting on his friendship with author Lewis Carroll, profiles of the film’s unusual supporting characters, side-by-side comparisons of raw production footage with the completed movie, and the music video “Just Like Fire” by Pink. A digital HD copy is enclosed. The film is also available as a double-bill Blu-ray release with Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland.