*Warning: Potential Spoilers*
The second installment of Alice Kingsleigh and her colorful compatriots in Underland suffer from the all-too-familiar disaster of many such beautifully animated movies- it tells, but it doesn’t show. While younger children might be swept away by the colors and textures and overall wonder of it all, anyone over the age of ten will be questioning key parts of the story, wondering what they missed, and there is just no good answer for them. Alice Through the Looking Glass is full of wonder, but that’s not always a good thing.
We open on Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) guiding her crew through stormy seas and away from pirates, proving once again that her motto of “nothing is impossible” is a license to do crazy things- when no one’s there to see it. When she returns home, she finds that her wild ways alienate her from everyone she knows and she risks losing everything she has to continue to live her own way. Thankfully, a distraction comes in the form of butterfly friend Absolem (the late and great Alan Rickman in his last role) to tell her that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) requires her assistance in Underland. She arrives to fid that Hatter believes his family survived a massacre, causing him to grow ill, and the only way to cure him is to go back in time and save them herself. To do that, she must bargain with Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) and avoid the dangerous whims of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter).
Alice Through the Looking Glass had a budget of $170,000,000, and you can definitely tell where it went- for all its faults, Underland remains the beautiful majesty it has always been. The best part is that none of these places are places you’ve seen before- the characters are the same, but other than the Mad Hatter’s tea table, viewers are faced with completely new environments, from Time’s Internal Clock to the waves of the past to the Red Queen’s weird plant castle. It ranges from the delightfully wacky to the astonishingly beautiful- Time’s clock graveyard is particularly haunting, and I could spent all day in its counterpart of the Living clocks- and you can tell that a great deal of work went into each of these places. Unfortunately, that seems to be where the directors have spent all their time.
The story of Alice Through the Looking Glass could’ve used several rewrites, or at least someone going back over the script and saying “Hey, is the audience going to have a question about this?” Because we do. We have so many questions. How is the Red Queen living in a castle with servants and able to go where she pleases, when in the original film we saw her banished to live alone with her unwilling manservant? Why is the Mad Hatter getting sick, how does his family surviving or otherwise accomplish that? And when Alice begins to go back and forth between her world and Underland, what exactly is happening? Is she talking to no one, how are the items in both worlds, just what?! It’s the classic case of show, don’t tell- if you’re going to have these amazing worlds made for us, you have to give us the story to go with them. Just staring at the pretty backgrounds is only going to amuse us for so long.
Most of the acting in this movie is only okay. The character of Alice is a little more interesting, giving Wasikowska more to work with, but she’s still a bit of a cliche. The Hatter has a truly terrifying moment that lasts all of thirty seconds, and then he’s back to being Johnny Depp with crazy makeup. Or, you know, Johnny Depp. Many of the other characters and their mannerisms from the first film are over exaggerated (I cannot tell you how many times I just wanted to shove the White Queen off a cliff, no matter how much I love Anne Hathaway her airy-fairy nature was just too much) and none of them were given enough time to really be interesting. The only character besides Alice who is at all developed or interesting is Time himself, the first time that I think I’ve ever really enjoyed Sacha Baron Cohen in a role ever. While his initial impression is that of a villain, there is so much more to him and I almost wish they’d given him more time to develop himself because of everyone we get to see, Time is the character who could provide the most amusement and story enhancement at the same time.
The music does not disappoint, a welcome continuity from the first film, and you can tell that the story was supposed to be interesting. With a little more work and a little more courage at the end, and this may have been something I’d consider seeing again. But for now? It’s only worth it if you rent it. Really, really cheaply.
Oh Alice dear where have you been… because it was clearly not getting your script supervised.