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Movie review: Alice Through the Looking Glass

After the succes of Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” movie, it was just a matter of Time before Disney produced a sequel: “Alice Through the Looking Glass”. This time, it was directed by James Bobin. I went to see it yesterday and… I was disappointed.

First of all, let me say that I didn’t enjoy the first “Alice in Wonderland” movie either. But because I didn’t want to be a prejudiced sour puss, I kept that in mind when I entered the cinema. I figured that, if I would anticipate a similar movie, just with a different story, I would be able to judge it for what it was.

However, the movie still managed to disappoint. It is not just that I am too much of a die-hard Carroll fan to appreciate this kind of movie; my non-Alice loving friends who joined me, were also disappointed because of the lack of a proper story.

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The story

When Alice follows Absolem the Caterpillar Butterfly through a looking glass, she discovers that her old friend the Hatter is terribly depressed. He found an item from his childhood, and although he thought his whole family had died, he now thinks they must be still alive. In stead of starting to look for them, for some reason he has decided to lock himself into his house and languish.

Alice does not believe that his parents are indeed still alive. But when the White Queen tells her she must travel in time to save them from dying, she obliges.

This is the start of a crazy rollercoaster adventure through time. Or actually, despite Time, who is a he, and tries to stop Alice from messing up history and ruining time while trying to save the Hatter from dying of misery. And then there is the Red Queen showing up again, who has her own agenda.

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The good, the bad and the ugly

It all starts out quite promising for Alice fans. There are nice details, like the items set out on the chimney-piece, who are almost exactly like those in the original illustration. And Alice indeed enters a room with a chessboard, as described in the book. But it quickly gets out of hand after that.

Of course, “Alice Through the Looking Glass” is not meant as a filming of the book “Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there”, so don’t expect a similar story. What you can expect is a story that is very overwhelming. It is like a Caucus-Race on steroids: a lot of running around while accomplishing nothing.

The story is also incredibly fast paced. There is no building up / release of expense: it is almost two hours of being bombarded with one event after another, which left me exhausted in my cinema seat, wondering what the hell just happened (and why).

And as it being a Disney movie, of course the story ends with a sugar coated in-your-face moral: family matters most. Yuck. (Admittedly, I did find the customary comic relief side-kick, a Second continuously calling out “Tick! Tick!”, to be very endearing.)

attlg-red-queenGiven the fact that Time is an actual person, there are several quite funny time jokes in the movie. Also, the movie offers an alternative explanation why the Hatter, March Hare and Dormouse are stuck at tea-time (although in the movie, it is actually one minute before tea-time).

There are no blatant inaccuracies, as were in the first movie (like pronouncing “borogoves” as “borogroves”), although the Jabberwock of course is still erroneously being called Jabberwocky. But they did manage to mangle up the poem “Twinkle, twinkle, little bat” (it’s “How I wonder what you’re at”, not “where you’re at”) – but I guess I’m nitpicking now.

If you wonder whether you can go see the movie without having seen the first “Alice in Wonderland” movie: yes, you can, although you will wonder about some events that apparently happened in the past. Also, the characters are not being introduced again. But that isn’t a problem, as it is clear enough that the Red Queen has a vengeance with Alice. And many of the characters from “Alice in Wonderland”, like Mallymkun the dormouse and the dog Bayard, seem to be there just for the sake of recognition anyway – they don’t have a purpose in the story at all.

Do go see the movie for the visualry, as it again contains many pretty decors, costumes and details, although Underland does not look as fantastic as it looked in the first movie. I especially liked the time travelling scenes. The backgrounds are so full and detailed that it is easy to miss something. I think I would need to see the movie for a second time to spot all the details that are in it.

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!! SPOILERS !!

For those who have already seen the movie, I will be discussing some aspects of the story below. It contains spoilers, so come back later to read this part if you don’t want to know too much about the story!

The main issue I have with the movie, is that Alice seems to act very much out of character. Yes, the Wonderland books are fantasy and strange things happen, but there is always this logical ground underneath it, even in the jokes.

In “Alice Through the Looking Glass”, Alice gets warned by Time not to take the chronosphere because she might kill all people in Underland. She still takes it to save the Hatter. But it doesn’t make sense that she is willing to sacrifice all her other friends, just to save the Hatter.

Later on, she realizes that taking the chronosphere was a mistake and that she is indeed killing Time. But then she still decides to time travel ‘just one more time’. I wouldn’t expect Alice to ever be that ignorant.

And why does the decay of Time/time only destroy Underland and not the real world? We have time here as well, don’t we?

Last but not least, there is the incredibly annoying part when we see Underworld fall apart and all seems lost… or isn’t it? Time told Alice that no-one should ever see himself when travelling in time, because that would cause huge problems – although it is unknown what exactly will happen. This is unrelated to the problem that time stops running if you take away the chronosphere for too long. While no-one knows what happens when you see your historic counterpart, everone does seem to know the solution for it. The mechanical butler has the task of getting us viewers up to speed, by exclaiming something like: “Oh no, now we can only save the world by putting the chronosphere back!”. Well, thank you for enlightening us too… And how very convenient it is, that this will fix both problems at the same time!

What I did find a clever concept, is that Time has Seconds as minions, who can form Minutes and an Hour together! I feel like this is an invention Lewis Carroll would agree with.

However, all in all, I consider the movie to be a failure. Of course I do hope other people will go see it, and that it will spark their interest in the original Alice in Wonderland stories again. But to me, this movie is too far away from anything that I consider Carrollesque.

1 Comment so far

  1. Contains SPOILERS

    I’ve always accepted any adaptations to the books as “fan fiction” so I go into any movie regarding Alice with an open mind. Especially these two movies since Alice is an adult–they really are taking liberties and creating completely new story lines.
    I do agree with you that the movie’s pace was exhausting, and I believe the only reason for the movie title was that this was the second movie, and “Through the Looking-Glass” was the second book. Maybe the preciseness of the mantle in the looking glass scene was for the benefit of us Carrollinians?

    With those things being said, I do think it was quite clever that the movie’s main antagonist, Time, is based on the passage in “Alice in Wonderland” when Alice first meets the Hatter. The reason Time freezes time at tea-time is different in the movie versus the book, but I thought it rounded it up nicely. In the movie, the Hatter is forced to wait for Alice to show up to move on passed tea time. I found this approach to be quite clever. I also thought Time to be remarkably complex character. He’s an antagonist, neurotic, bossy, fragile, powerful, temperamental, and a bit of a hero.

    I also adore the fashion. I love it when I notice a wardrobe change for Alice and there is no explanation for it–there shouldn’t be, we are in wonderland.

    Finally (completely unrelated) the other antagonist–Hamish. He’s such a jerk. I’m pleased Alice bested him (which of course we knew she would).

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