Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)


“It’s Time for a Little Madness.”

Directed by James Bobin
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham-Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen

After a three year spell of freedom captaining a ship around the world, the oppressive ways of England impel Alice (Wasikowska) to return to Underland, where she finds the Hatter (Depp) dying of melancholy and undertakes to borrow the Chronosphere from Time (Baron Cohen), a half-clockwork god whose great clock maintains the passage of time in Underland, and travel back in time to save his family from the Jabberwocky.

Time, being a responsible anthropomorphic personification, refuses to lend the Chronosphere to either Alice or his girlfriend, the Red Queen (Bonham-Carter), so Alice nicks it, because screw the patriarchy and the integrity of their linear historical progression. She tries to snatch the family from under the claws of the Jabberwock (silent now, since the passing of Christopher Lee,) but is knocked off course and instead witnesses the Hatter’s role in the future Red Queen’s humiliation at her sister the future White Queen’s (Hathaway) coming of age. This in turn prompts Alice to try to prevent the accident which gave the Red Queen her oversized head, before realising that she can not change the past, only learn from it.

She witnesses the capture of the Hightopp family and in the present leads a spectacularly botched rescue, gets captured, and has to make a final dash through time to prevent the Red Queen undoing all of history. Oh, then she has to go back to the real world and apply some sort of lesson about time being a gift.

What’s wrong with it?

Sasha Baron Cohen is the highlight of restrained and nuanced acting in this film. Take a moment to deal with that.
Sasha Baron Cohen is the highlight of restrained and nuanced acting in this film. Take a moment to deal with that.

I’m not even kidding. Bobin and Baron Cohen grock each other’s mojo in that way Tim Burton has with Depp and Bonham-Carter, but the returning cast are basically lost. Depp’s kook-quotient is unrestrained – as a result of which, the character is hard to get hold of and relate to, despite his more personal narrative – Bonham-Carter is off the hizz-ook, and Wasikowska looks baffled to be there.

The animated returners are delegated to minor supporting roles, with more screen time to Time’s automaton butler (voiced by Toby Jones in a performance which makes me wonder if he’s the voice of Sergei the meerkat.)

Speaking of cast, did they really bring back Geraldine James and give her no lines?

As well as not handling the cast well, Bobin misjudges the Burtonesque whimsy to the point that it becomes the point rather than the style. At one point the movie is whimsically commenting on its own whimsical nature, and that’s not as endearing as it thinks it is.

Okay, so… our principle heroes are between them responsible for provoking and perhaps causing the accident which gave a ten year old girl serious brain damage, and leading or allowing the mockery of that girl in later life for the physical affects of the injury. Moreover, pretty much all of Underland is populated by jeering arseholes willing – nay eager – to point and laugh at a disabled and visibly distressed young woman, whose parents compound the damage by taking her to task for losing her temper. If I had a Jabberwock I’d have set fire to that bloody town as well.

The Hightopps and their neighbours are at odds with the whole Wonderland thing. It really never felt like a place that has much in the way of civilians. Frogs and lizards, footmen and cooks, and clearly an audience for the trial, but not sober folk with jobs and stuff. So odd.

What’s right with it?

Look, I'm not denying that the productiion design is amazing.
Look, I’m not denying that the productiion design is amazing.

Okay, so it looks great. The visual effects are beautiful, especially the great clock and its automaton keepers.

How bad is it really?

This is what happens when society fails the mentally ill.
This is what happens when society fails the mentally ill.

Alice in Wonderland (the Burton, not the Disney) is a divisive picture, loved by some, hated by others. I liked it, but the delicate balance of Burton’s special kind of dreamlike fantasy is lacking, and Bobin proves that the kind of slapstick that works so well with the Muppets falls down hard when applied to a ten year old girl suffering major head trauma.

This is the last we have of Alan Rickman, and that makes me a little sad.

Best bit (if such there is)?

The first ride through the sea of time – over-literal as the metaphor may be – is quite, quite beautiful.

What’s up with…?

  • Time travel? Seriously, it’s a weird addition to Wonderland.
  • Alice being such a bitch to her mother? She basically tells her that neither her husband nor her daughter ever loved her as much as a ship.
  • The High Topps? Hatter’s family are so determinedly normal, which doesn’t fit Wonderland at all. In fact, the same could be said for a lot of the background characters in this film. It’s supposed to be all absurd, rather than being  basically normal, but run by a dangerously eccentric overclass. It’s not Victorian Britain.


Production values – This is the film’s great strength. It is gorgeous, and every shot is a riot of forms and action. 3
Dialogue and performances – A lot of very, very good actors are not at their best in this film. Snippets of Carroll’s dialogue are inserted to try to mimic the feel of the novel, but in fact they detract by not meshing organically with the rest of the script. 16
Plot and execution – The plot is thin, and kind of bizarre for Wonderland, which is a statement to puzzle on. It just sort of rambles. 14
Randomness – Randomness is kind of the point of Wonderland, so I can’t mark too highly here, but there are a lot of characters who are here just because they were in the last one, and that’s never a good sign. 8
Waste of potential – Good source material and a good first movie, not to mention a lot of wasted talent, make this a high-scoring area for a film with a grievous mismatch of performers, theme and director. 18

Overall 59%


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