Release: 3rd October 2016
Format: Disney 3D Blu-Ray / Blu-Ray / DVD and Digital
Alice Kingsleigh has spent the past few years following in her father’s footsteps and sailing the high seas. Upon her return to London, she comes across a magical looking glass and returns to the fantastical realm of Underland and her friends. The Hatter has lost his Muchness, so Mirana sends Alice on a quest to borrow the Chronosphere, a metallic globe inside the chamber of the Grand Clock which powers all time. Returning to the past, she comes across friends – and enemies – at different points in their lives, and embarks on a perilous race to save the Hatter before time runs out.
When Tim Burton first sent Alice down the rabbit hole in 2010, expectations were high; the reception was lukewarm at best. But although Alice In Wonderland was hardly classic Burton, it still had enough heart and wit to stand on its own two feet as an individual franchise within the throng of Disney’s output. A sequel was far from inevitable, but in the genteel hands of the eccentric James Bobin (The Muppets, Flight of the Conchords), it has somehow materialised but much to the same end as it predecessor.
The core of the first Alice movie, and even more so here, is Mia Wasikowska’s kooky title character. Wasikowska’s Alice is a paradoxical flake who somehow manages to at once be whimsical and flighty yet determined and steadfast. The film opens on giddy high seas where Alice is captain of her own ship ‘The Wonder’, escaping pirates in the most impossible (six of them before breakfast, if you can) way, before settling into the auxiliary plot. Bobin maintains the overall aesthetic of the original film, whilst giving his own idiosyncratic flourishes; the most notable being Alice’s wardrobe and the subsequent reactions it causes. But despite the need for setup, Bobin is also keenly aware that no one is really in this to see Alice in Victorian England, and we are quickly thrust through the looking glass and into the film’s main grind.
It is here is Underland where humour and spectacle fight tooth and nail to overcome unsightly technical artistry. Very little of what Alice comes into contact with looks or feels remotely tangible. She is rendered in a world of cartoony faces and mismatched lighting, where – particularly in one scene where she and the Hatter walk a country road – the cast look more removed from their artificial surroundings than a weather man and his green screen giving the day’s forecast. It was an issue that haunted the original, and no noticeable improvements have been made here; but that is an adult’s problem, and let us not forget at its heart this has always been a story for children. In that light, Alice Through The Looking Glass is a frothy warm bath of colour and sound.
There is no literal humour in the conventional sense. Jokes are not necessarily delivered or constructed, but it is a film just odd enough to create laughs all the same. Depp is on form as the Hatter, as is Bonham Carter as Iracebeth, but the breakout is as you might expect; Sacha Baron Cohen. Like Werner Herzog channelling the Phantom of the Opera’s brain-dead cousin, Cohen’s Time waddles and stumbles around the frame delivering a wonderfully arrogant folly that creates enough definition to make this easily the better of the two films. He is an instantly quotable character (“Wilkins!”), and has the film’s best and most obscure moment as he acts extremely menacing yet consciously laidback, in a scene that only Cohen could deliver so well.
As the film spirals into its goofy final act, one loses all interest and or sense of the plot, but it remains a fun watch in spite of itself. It is a movie that functions wholly on the central performances, and relies too much of cutting corners with digital technology. But as family friendly fun and an extension of Lewis Carroll’s mystical lunacy, this is most definitely not the wrong Alice.
Film Grade: C+
A healthy bundle of special features take us through various stages of the film’s conception and making. There are no thoughts on the final product or indeed, an insight into post production, but you do get a nice little indent from Cohen as Time reminiscing on a fictional relationship with Lewis Carroll.
There is also a music video from Pink (nice song, poop vid), and a making of there too. Bobin’s commentary is reasonably enjoyable, but hardly the gut buster or technical master class you’ll likely remember.
Special Features Grade: B-
As an example of Disney’s live action remakes, this easily goes near the top of the list. As a standalone production, it is a tad overwrought with visual effects and shallow plotting. Nevertheless, Alice Through The Looking Glass is a hoot.