Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass (2016)

(05-29-2016) By: Karl Stern

On May 28, 2016, Tonya and I went to the Carmike Cinema in Decatur, Alabama to see the Disney sequel to Alice in Wonderland, the Johnny Depp vehicle Alice - Through the Looking Glass.  Let me get the boring basics out of the way first.  Here are the film facts and description as dryly stated by Google:

"After slipping through a mirror, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) finds herself back in Underland with the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Her friends tell her that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is depressed over the death of his family. Hoping to save his loved ones, Alice steals the Chronosphere from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) to travel into the past. While there, she encounters the younger Hatter and the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter)."

I was surprised to see this movie getting blasted by critics when I began looking up the film particulars for my review here at When It Was Cool.  Understand this, first and foremost about our website, I am not a movie critic.  I am not a comic book critic.  I am not a book critic.  I am not a food critic.  I am a fan.  I could not care less about the things a critic looks for in a movie.  I do not care how much a movie makes or does not make.  I care about the following:

1) Did I have fun?

2) Did I get bored?

3) Did this make sense?

4) Was this a waste of time?

5) Was there anything of value to be taken away from this experience?

So basically, I am not a film snob.  Nor am I smarter than you.  Nor do I care to be.  I am a dude with my wife going to see a film about a property she really loves- Alice in Wonderland.  With that out of the way, on with the show.

Tonya is a fan of the Alice in Wonderland property.  I must admit I had never really given it two thoughts.  She introduced me to the Lewis Carroll book and I must say I soon began to appreciate it as well, especially the mildly creepy Victorian era artwork.  The whole story, while colorful and fanciful and well... wonderful... also has an undeniable creepiness to it.  The first movie and this sequel, did well in capturing the Steampunkesque (my word) strangeness of it.  I'm not a drug guy.  I'm as straight laced as they come but I imagine Alice in Wonderland (the book especially) is what a really whacked out acid trip might be like.

Tonya and I had watched the first movie on DVD to prepare me for the sequel.  She, of course, had previously seen the film but I had not.  I am new to the whole Alice in Wonderland mythos.  My only prior exposure to these characters was via the trippy Jefferson Airplane song White Rabbit.  Go ask Alice, when she's ten feet tall... indeed.

Since this isn't a review of that movie, I'll let Alice: Through the Looking Glass stand or fall on it's own merits.  Again, critics be damned, this was a fun movie.  I am always hit or miss on Johnny Depp.  I've sometimes loved him, sometimes hated him, am sometimes indifferent to him.  Personally for me, however, this is the first time I have ever enjoyed freakin' Borat in a movie.  Yes, Sacha Baron Cohen played the pivotal role of Time in this movie and he was honestly pretty great.

I will keep the plot as spoiler free as possible, though, I can't see where it really matters.  There aren't any plot twists or surprises in this movie, it goes exactly where you would expect it to go.  That, in and of itself, is quite refreshing these days actually.  This movie picks up where Alice in Wonderland left off.  Alice is sailing the world as Captain of her late father's ship.  She is having adventures and doing impossible things around the world.  The movie starts with an action scene of Alice and her crew escaping pirates in a seat-of-your-pants ship chase... yes- a ship chase.  It's more thrilling than it sounds.

Alice returns to London to report on her excursions and prepare for her next journey only to find out that her spurned lover Hamish (Leo Bill) has set in motion a plan to steal her ship and her mother's home.  As she did in the first movie, Alice escapes this by running away.  This time, however, instead of chasing a rabbit down a rabbit hole, she follows a butterfly through a mirror, or the "looking glass" thus where we get the movie title.

Alice finds herself back in Wonderland or Underworld as it's called here.  I'm not sure if that's terminology from the book or if that's just what it's called in the movies (I'm not that geek into it) but it is irrelevant.  Alice has returned and all her friends are thrilled to see her and most seem to have been expecting her return.  The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) has fallen into a deep depression due to revelations about his family and his separation from them years earlier.  I can't go much deeper into that without spoiling the plot so let's just leave that there.

The story requires that Alice travels back in time to attempt to right some wrongs and solve some mysteries and this is accomplished by way of a device called the Chronosphere.  The Chronosphere is in the possession of Time himself who is played by freakin' Borat.  If I haven't already said how much I hate Borat yet in this article let me take a moment to say, I hate Borat.  I hate Bruno too.  As soon as the revelation set upon me that Sacha Baron Cohen was playing Time I feared the worst.

However, my fears were misplaced.  In a role and in a movie that seemed to lend itself to over-the-topness and silliness, Cohen for once actually reeled it in and played the character as straight as a character could be played in a movie with talking rabbits, hookah smoking caterpillars, and giant headed royalty.  His comedy was actually subdued and was played in a way that you sympathized with the character which was set up to be antagonistic.

One thing I think the movie failed in was featuring the outlandish characters of the novel and first movie.  The thing that intrigued me most about the Alice in Wonderland novel was the insanity of the characters.  A disappearing cat with a giant smile.  A mellow, mystery spewing caterpillar. A talking rabbit concerned with a pocket watch.  This movie spent little time with those characters and did not introduce many new ones.  About the only new characters we got were Time's minions of the Seconds who could climb on top of one another to create larger Minutes who could then form an even larger Hour.  You get the picture.

The Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) returned to again play the main antagonist.  This time, however, she becomes a sympathetic character unlike in the original story when we find out the origin to her abnormally large head.  Yes, that is actually a major plot point in the story is how the Red Queen's head got big.

The story had a nice moral ending about the importance of family and gave the impression that this was the last of the series.  I suppose if it does well enough, Alice could again return to Underland but I don't think there is original source material for a third Alice story.  The wacky characters of Underland all said their final goodbyes to Alice making it seem like this was the end.  When Alice returns to the real world her story with her father's ship and mother's home is nicely wrapped up in a satisfying conclusion.

Again, I am no movie critic nor do I wish to be.  But did I have fun?  Certainly so.  The movie never dragged, never seemed too silly, and never left me lost.  Freakin' Borat was a pleasant surprise and Johnny Depp was again perfectly fine in the role of the Mad Hatter.  Little is ever said about Mia Wasikowska who plays Alice in these movies.  It seems she is over-shadowed on the promotional material by Johnny Depp and I can't say she really steals the movie.  In fact, she plays a perfectly fine Alice but in a "not too overly memorable way".  I know that sounds like a knock on her but it's not because I feel like she's not supposed to.  That the focus is supposed to be on the Mad Hatter and the vivid characters of Underland and if that is the case, then she did a perfect job.

The movie seems appropriate for younger children.  There was nothing suggestive or overly frightening in the movie and it had a nice moral message without being preachy.  I disagree with the critics on this one and give it a solid thumbs up.

 Carmike Cinema in Decatur, Alabama

Carmike Cinema in Decatur, Alabama