Returning home after a successful trading expedition, Alice Kinsleigh (Mia Wasikowska), captain of her father's ship The Wonder, gets most unwelcome news - Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill) now holds the title to her mother, Helen's (Lindsay Duncan) home, but will relinquish it for Alice's ship, her position demoted to clerk. Cheered by the sight of the blue butterfly Absolem (voice of Alan Rickman), she follows him into a new challenge which will reflect on her present in "Alice Through the Looking Glass."
Why isn't Lewis Carroll good enough for screenwriter Linda Woolverton and the Disney machine which funds her? Much like Tim Burton's 2010 "Alice in Wonderland," (the sequel is directed by "Muppets Most Wanted's" James Bobin), the Carroll classic has been gutted, his characters and ideas used for whimsical adornment on a story even worse than the first film's, Woolverton again infusing ideas from other authors (a hint of Oz again, as well as Peter Pan and Terry Pratchett) while not capitalizing on any of them. Sure, the film positions its Alice as a feminist (there are even Suffragettes thrown into this mix), Helena Bonham Carter's Red Queen is MVP and eye candy abounds, but even its climactic visual design feels cribbed from another movie (Wasikowska's "Crimson Peak").
Alice arrives on the other side of the mirror to find herself dwarfed by the mantle on which she stands. Running, jumping, clinging and falling, she lands on a chessboard only to dislodge Humpty Dumpty. The chess pieces spring into rescue mode. That part of the adaptation out of the way, she arrives at the Mad Hatter's (Johnny Depp) tea party, but its host isn't there. She's told by his assembled regulars that he's failing, convinced that his family, the Hightopps, were not slain by the Red Queen's Jabberwocky after all and he has failed them.
After a visit to the ill Hatter who closes the door on her when she fails to believe him, Alice is directed towards Time's (Sacha Baron Cohen) Chroniscope, the device which keeps his universal clock running, in order to travel back and find out what really happened to Hatter's family. Along the way she learns that his first stab at millinery was rejected by his father (Rhys Ifans), later doomed when the crown created for the Red Queen wouldn't fit her oversized head (we also get the back story as to just how it got that way, less than inspired excepting the White Queen's (Anne Hathaway) part in it).
Woolverton's theme regarding being unable to change the past but learning from it is paralleled in Hatter's relationship with his father and Alice's with her mother, but we have to endure a lot of unfunny time puns along the way. As hours tick by, the Hatter's makeup loses color. He's like Tinkerbell waiting for everyone to believe in him. Time, assisted by 'bots representing seconds and minutes, keeps lives running as stop watches until their time runs out, just like Terry Pratchett's Death and his hourglasses. Apparently time belongs to the Germans, as Baron Cohen plays him by co-opting Werner Herzog's accent, Time's butler designed as a walrus-mustachioed roly poly.
Colleen Atwood's costume design is stunning, especially Wasikowska's Chinese empress outfit, its pleated pants allowing for the actress's physical performance. The chroniscope is a spherical Time Machine, which whizzes over literal oceans of time, the past shimmering within its waves. There is certainly enough to keep the eye engaged, but the Mad Hatter's father complex is far from enough to propel "Alice Through the Looking Glass."
Robin did not see this film.
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