FILM REVIEW – ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS. With Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen. Written by Linda Woolverton. Directed by James Bobin. Rated PG for fantasy action/peril and some language. 113 minutes.
As with “Alice in Wonderland” (2010), the sequel ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS has very little to do with the novel by Lewis Carroll. Indeed, other than some of the characters, it’s so bizarre and different that you may feel you’ve gone through the looking glass yourself.
It opens with the adult Alice (Mia Wasikowska) captaining a ship away from a pirate attacks. Is this a dream? A fantasy? No, it’s for real, and when she returns to London, she finds that things have taken a turn for the worse for her fortunes. However, this framing device is simply an excuse to send Alice through the mirror and back into the world of the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham Carter), and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).
The Hatter has taken ill because he believes his family–whom everyone thought had been killed by the Jabberwocky–is still alive. Alice is sent to the castle of Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) to get a device that will allow her to travel back in time and rescue the Hatter’s parents and siblings. It’s as if Linda Woolverton, who “adapted” the previous film, lost her copy of the Carroll book and so grabbed whatever was at hand to work with instead. Apparently it was H. G. Wells’ “The Time Machine.”
It’s all very colorful and imaginative, so if you’re very young–or older and under the influence of something psychoactive–it may engage you. There are mechanical people and vegetable people and characters with oversize heads and talking animals. The motivations of the characters make little sense (why Alice has to return to England instead of fetching her widowed mother and bringing her over is never explained), with the unconsummated romance between Alice and the Mad Hatter, invented for the first movie, making the least sense of all.
As before, Wasikowska fares best with Depp, Carter, and Hathaway done in by their costumes, makeup, and dialogue. Cohen manages not to embarrass himself, perhaps because his character is wholly invented for the story and so he doesn’t have to go through the pretense that he’s showing some loyalty to the novel. The 2010 film was a huge success despite its loose connection to the books, so perhaps today’s moviegoers don’t really care.
“Alice Through the Looking Glass” will work for children too young for this weekend’s other mutant movie (“X-Men: Apocalypse”) even though the similarities are as striking as they are disturbing. Parents with a low threshhold for such fare may wish to flip a coin, with the loser having to accompany the kids to this movie.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.