Alice Through the Looking Glassby Alex Stroup, staff writer
A really nice moment happened at the screening of Alice Through the Looking Glass I attended earlier this week. The appointed time came around, the lights dimmed, the audience quieted. The Walt Disney Picture logo came on screen in silence. Then the movie starts. Still in silence.
We quickly realize something is wrong and the movie is playing with the sound turned off. We're immediately dumped into a naval battle and the audience starts doing foley work. A collective "boom!" as a cannon is fired. A quiet cry of "oh no! from the back as people are thrown about by the impact. "Surprise! I'm a woman!" as the ship's captain turns around to reveal that it is, in fact, Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikoska).
Ninety seconds in and the crowd is collectively loving this movie. Score one for the social experience of actually going to a theater.
Then a representative of the agency running the screening shouts, "We'll restart the movie with sound!" Thus ends anything remotely fun about the movie.
It restarts, we get the Disney logo with sound. We get an "exciting" naval battle with proper foley effects by people actually paid for the effort. We get an unlikely escape with the questionable wisdom that the way to do the impossible is to first believe it is possible. If you're a fan of the works of Lewis Carroll, at this point, you might be struggling to recall the adventures of Alice, Sea Captain. As well you should struggle. Here's a near comprehensive list of things Alice Through the Looking Glass has in common with the Lewis Carroll novel Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There:
- There is a character named Alice.
- There is a mirror by which Alice returns to Wonderland
- Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas) make an appearance
- Humpty Dumpty (Wally Wingert) and animated chess pieces show up
In terms of actual story, there isn't the barest nod to the source material. Instead, Alice returns to London after several years at sea to find that her mother has sold her ship out from under her in an attempt to turn her into a more ladylike figure.
While stomping about in anger from that, Absalom (Alan Rickman, in what may be his last role) shows up and leads her through a mirror back to Wonderland. She literally drops in on a sad tea party attended by Mirana (White Queen, Anne Hathaway), Tweedledee/Tweedledum, Bayard (bloodhound, Timothy Spall), and other characters who really don't matter in any way.
They inform Alice that things are looking bad because Tarrant Hightopp (the Mad Hatter, Johnny Depp) is fading away because he realized something about his family's death and nobody believes him. Instead of everybody just believing him, Alice is informed that the only possible solution is for Alice to borrow the "chronosphere" from Time (Sacha Baren Cohen doing a Cristoph Waltz impression), go to the past, and prevent Hatter's family from getting dead in the first place.
This being merely unpossible (as opposed to impossible), Alice is of course up to the task. The next 20 minutes are the only bright spot in an otherwise inexcusably boring movie. Baron Cohen's bouncing around as Time has real kineticism, humor, and cleverness.
Sadly, though, eventually Alice has to steal the chronosphere, even though she's told that this puts the entire universe at risk, and starts bouncing through time, revealing that everything bad in the world is the result of the hurt feelings of young children.
Seriously. I don't care if that's a little bit spoilery. Director James Bobin and screenwriter Linda Woolverton apparently went to the same school of conflict generation and resolution as the writers of Batman v Superman (yes, two reviews in a row that use that as a negative benchmark—but it really does deserve it). If only the owie on the playground had been kissed a little more tenderly nobody would ever do any bad things, and regardless of how bad the bad things are they are all absolved by an apology (not the person who did the bad things apologizing, but the person who hurt the bad person's feelings). Sure, nothing makes sense in Wonderland, so perhaps morality and ethics and responsibility shouldn't, either. But since Alice is then supposed to take these lessons back to the real world on our side of the mirror, it might be good if they were a bit less reprehensible.
Like The Jungle Book, Alice Through the Looking Glass is essentially an animated film with a few real people thrown into the mix. As such, it delivers on being visually stunning and in that regard, wallows in the unhinged aspect that Lewis Carroll allows for. Other than that, though, and a few minutes of Sacha Baron Cohen's performance as Time, there is no good reason for seeing this movie. Just let it slide from memory as if it never happened.
Alice Through the Looking Glass is a Walt Disney Pictures release:
- Wide release on Friday, May 27, 2016.
- Directed by James Bobin.
- Written by Linda Woolverton.
- Starring Mia Wasikowska, Sacha Baron Cohen, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway.
- Rated PG for fantasy action/peril and some language.
- Running time 113 minutes.
- Alex's rating: 3 out of 10.