The difficulty of bringing Lewis Carroll’s two “Alice” books to the screen in the various adaptations over the years seems always to have been how to choose what to include, given the overwhelming number of characters and material. The new Disney sequel “Alice Through the Looking Glass” has solved this conundrum by using exactly none of the source material, and making up virtually everything from scratch.
In fairness, there is a character named Alice who goes through a looking glass, and she does meet the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit, the Red Queen and the White Queen. But once there, she launches a totally new plot to travel through time and reunite the Mad Hatter with his estranged family. To do this, she has to steal a time-traveling device from Time himself (Sasha Baron Cohen).
Literary crimes aside, I think the massive critical hatred piling up is rather extreme. Like the Tim Burton-directed predecessor, this film (produced by Burton but directed by a James Bobin) goes pretty heavy on the CGI for my taste, but there are some memorably lovely set pieces, and the production design is pretty fabulous. An entirely cartoonish clockwork castle left me cold, but the Mad Hatter’s tea party was a memorable confection.
Mia Wasikowska is a bold and winning Alice, and Helena Bonham Carter continues to steal the show as the petulant Red Queen. Johnny Depp’s contoured, orange-wigged Hatter, while a focal point to the action, is weirdly absent from most of the film. His personal problems will no doubt continue to snowball hatred for this character, but I say, of his terrible children’s movie characters, his Willy Wonka is far worse.
My main problem with the plot of this movie also harkens back to that Willy Wonka adaptation. In that film, you no doubt will have forgotten, the plot is fattened up with a really boring excursion into Willy Wonka’s childhood, and the film wraps up, to its great detriment, with Willy and his dentist father, Wilbur, reconciling.
Here too, in a book with some of the most legendarily imaginative and whimsical excursions ever put down on paper, the filmmakers saw fit to reduce the plot to quotidian family squabbles and, even though Alice travels through looking glasses and through time, the end result is often earthbound. Outside of Wonderland, there is also a rather simplistic plot about Alice asserting her own power in a male-dominated society.
But geez, I read a review in which someone (Matt Zoller Seitz) said they had to wash their eyeballs out after they watched this movie! It’s not actually bad, it’s just not as good as it could have been. Once I gave up on pointing out differences from the book, I enjoyed it, but houses that look like top hats, a table amid fiddlehead ferns and toadstools set with elaborate sweets, and really fabulous costumes can really count for a lot for me. Clearly, these features warmed my opinion a good deal more than the majority of others. I guess I just really like toadstools.
“Alice Through the Looking Glass” is now playing at all multiplex theaters.