Thursday, May 26, 2016

‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ is a Colorful World Worth Revisiting

Johnny Depp and Mia Wasikowska in "Alice Through the Looking Glass"
Johnny Depp and Mia Wasikowska (Disney)
MOVIE REVIEW
I have always had a love-hate relationship with Alice and her Wonderland. On one hand, I have always loved the whimsy of the story the larger-than-life characters. However, I never found an adaptation of the story that I loved including the original text by Lewis Carroll. The biggest problem with the original story, and any faithful adaptation of it for that matter, is its lack of character development and any real storyline other than Alice finally catching up to the White Rabbit. Walt Disney said his own 1951 animated story lacked heart.
 

Director Tim Burton and writer Linda Woolverton changed all that with the Disney live action version of Alice in Wonderland in 2010. Though the film had the same title as the book, this new Alice only resembled the original story. Instead, it took the best of the original, namely the characters, and created an entirely new story. Unlike Carroll’s version, Burton’s version showed Alice’s real friendship with the Mad Hatter in “Underland” while she worked out her marriage proposal in the real world. This story had heart.
 

It’s been six years since Tim Burton took us down the rabbit hole to Underland, so a new trip is way overdue. For Alice Through the Looking Glass, Burton took a step back and let James Bobin direct. For the most part, the sequel works very well as a companion piece to the first story.

In Looking Glass, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now a sea captain who finds out that her ex-fiance, Hamish (Leo Bill) has made a deal with her mother (Lindsay Duncan) while she was away at sea. She agreed to sell him the family home. He will give it back if Alice hands over the sailing ship. As with the first story, Alice is taken away from the situation to handle more pressing matters in Wonderland or Underland as it is referred to here. She is led by the former caterpillar, Absolem (Alan Rickman), now a full-fledged butterfly, through a mirror. This first scene is really the only one that seems to follow any of the original storyline in Carroll’s story. She is then led through a door that takes her to a quick trip back to Underland.
 

After dusting herself off, Alice see’s that her friends, the White Queen Mirana (Anne Hathaway), Tweedledee & Tweedledum (Matt Lucas), Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), March Hare (Paul Whitehouse), White Rabbit (Michael Sheen) and the Dormouse (Barbara Windsor) have been waiting for her. The Mad Hatter Tarrant Hightopp (Johnny Depp) is madder than usual and they were hoping that Alice can help. It seems that Tarrant has found some sort of evidence that would prove that his family is alive, despite the fact that it was told that they perished in an earlier attack from a dragon in the first movie. No one believes the Hatter, including Alice, which causes him to be despondent. Still with me?
 

Now, the Hatter’s friends discuss what would happen is they could turn the hands of time that would have prevented the dragon attack in the first place or at least rescue the Hatter family. The idea is impossible, but Alice hates that word. Mirana tells of a device called the Chronosphere owned by a man called Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) who can help Alice travel through time. The story uses the familiar theme that if you see your former self, you’ll mess up the whole operation and since Alice isn’t from Underland, she would make the perfect choice.
 

Without spoiling too much of the plot, know that Alice does get her hands on this device, much to the chagrin of Time, and visits younger versions of the Mad Hatter, Mirana and her sister, Iracebeth, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham-Carter) and we discover what has been bugging that red-haired hothead all these years.
 

Cohen and Time are excellent additions to the story that provide some fun puns. He is apparently dating the Red Queen who has made due with her new living quarters that is infested with bugs and creepy crawling things.
 

All of the characters are rich and expressive though some don’t get to do much more than sit around a tea party table. But I really appreciate Wolverton’s sensibility to the story with its strong emphasis on the importance of family, misunderstandings and the power of forgiveness. While I did feel that the feminism underlying theme to be a little preachy, unlike other versions of Wonderland, this story has an actual plot and a firm ending.
 

I loved both of these Alice movies, but I fear that I am part of the minority. The fact of the matter is, if you are not a fan of any version of Alice in Wonderland or its characters, you will not like this film. Some has said that it is chaotic and jumbled, but I did not find that to the case. Though it doesn’t feature any of Burton’s trademark creepiness that is typically found in his movies, you can still see and feel his influence. It’s a beautiful, colorful trip to a world that is worth revisiting.

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