It’s lavishly mounted with loads of eye-popping visuals, but Alice’s latest trip to Neverland never manages to reach its emotional core. Curious.
Pirates of the Mallorca Straits
Alice Through the Looking Glass starts off like gangbusters, with Alice (Mia Wasikowska, Crimson Peak) completing a 3-year adventure traveling the world on her late father’s merchant ship, The Wonder. Pirates, storms and high-seas escapades reveal Alice as a confident leader, building on where things left off with Alice’s victory — clad in shining armor — in Alice in Wonderland.
She’s also a savvy young businesswoman. When she returns to London, it’s her plan to make a business proposal to a man whose proposal for marriage she turned down. Those plans get sidelined when Absolem (the late Alan Rickman in his final — voice — role) comes calling for her help.
The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is unsuitably subdued. He’s desperate to get his family back, but they’re believed to be the victims of the mighty Jabberwocky. The only way to get them back, then, is to travel through time and alter the history of Neverland.
As Alice asserts during that high-seas episode, “The only way to make the impossible is to believe it is possible.”
Time After Time
This return to Neverland is fanciful and colorful, albeit under the direction of James Bobin (Muppets Most Wanted) instead of Tim Burton.
All of the pieces are there for a totally satisfying second serving of tea. As Alice bounces around Neverland in the Chronosphere, a time device central to Neverland’s existence, she encounters various scenarios and learns a life lesson that will serve her well back in London: You can’t change time, but you can learn from it.
One of the major new characters is Time himself, well played by Sacha Baron Cohen (Hugo) in one of his more agreeable performances — shunning the divisive humor found in his own creations, such as Borat and The Dictator.
The plays on words involving time and the references to time are numerous. In Neverland, each person’s life is represented by a pocket watch and Time moves that pocket watch from the land of the living to the land of the hereafter depending on one’s disposition. He hopes all of the living use their time well.
That in itself is a healthy message — using one’s time well — although perhaps it’s too understated to serve up the desired impact.
The Wonder of It All
It’s almost all there. The lively story. The colorful characters. The lush, vibrant visuals. The message of girl power. It’s all in keeping with the look and feel of Burton’s outlandish movie sensibilities.
There’s a lot to enjoy and admire here. It’s certainly well-crafted and it’s always visually pleasing to watch with well-executed visual effects and loads upon loads of eye candy.
But something’s off.
The resonance isn’t there, even though it very well should be.
Maybe it’s simply a matter of bad timing. Maybe it’s a certain amount of fantasy fatigue, a victim of Disney’s own overwhelming success with the Star Wars and Marvel franchises. Instead of feeling like something special, Alice Through the Looking Glass — following up on Burton’s unique Alice adventure from 6 years ago — feels more like an exercise in perpetual extravagance.
A lot has happened in those 6 years. Luke Skywalker returned to the big screen. The cinematic competition between the DC and Marvel universes has escalated. Maybe it’s simply a matter of time; down the road this one might be looked upon more favorably.