‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ – A Sequel With Less Muchness

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The Red Queen in Alice Through the Looking Glass
Image courtesy Disney

Alice Through the Looking Glass is the sequel to the delightful 2010 Alice in Wonderland. If you have not seen this version, you should watch it immediately.

Tim Burton’s new take on Alice has an adult Alice rediscovering the Wonderland of her childhood, which she had dismissed as being just a dream about chasing a rabbit. The premise allows the movie to pluck elements from the books and still create a new story. In Alice in Wonderland, Alice is a young woman at a point of crisis. She’s lost her father and is facing pressure to marry Hamish, the unpleasant son of her father’s business partner. She needs to discover her muchness, the essence of Alice that makes her Alice, before she can decide how to react to this proposal.

In Alice Through the Looking Glass, we return to Alice’s life. She seems full of muchness. She’s now the bold captain of her father’s ship, The Wonder. She’s battling pirates and traveling the world. Unfortunately, she also arrives a year later than scheduled, and things have changed at home. Her father’s old business partner has died, leaving the unpleasant and bitter Hamish in charge. Her mother has sold her shares of the business, and now Alice must decide between losing her mother’s home and losing her father’s boat. Could she choose a continued life of adventure and leave her mother homeless?  She then steps through the looking glass to find Wonderland in a different crisis. She must save the Mad Hatter (and of course, all of Wonderland) in a race against Time (played by Sacha Baron Cohen). And we all know that Time eventually catches up with everyone.

The theme this time is learning from the past and making amends in the present before it is too late. It’s also a prequel wrapped in a sequel, thanks to time travel. A bit of an X-Men Days of Future Past gone Wonderland.

Alice Through the Looking Glass has all the right elements to be as delightful as the first. It’s full of improbable costume changes and strong female characters. The returning actors are as wonderful as always, Sacha Baron Cohen is fantastic, and we get to (briefly) hear Alan Rickman’s voice one last time. They have all of the Alice in Wonderland source material to mine freely.

However, the movie falls just a little flat. Instead of telling a new story, we visit everyone’s past and learn their origin stories. Why is the Red Queen’s head so big? Why did she want to kill the Mad Hatter’s family? Frankly, the answer to each of those questions isn’t as interesting as it could be, and the story doesn’t feel as epic as it’s trying to be.

That isn’t to say that it was a terrible movie. It wasn’t. It was enjoyable and would work well for families who liked the first movie. I almost never think the 3-D version is worth it, but this is an exception. The storybook feel of the movie is enhanced with the stereoscopics. Go ahead and splurge on the 3-D upgrade.

Bottom line: In terms of the first movie, Alice Through the Looking Glass was just mostly Alice. A movie that still doesn’t quite have its muchness, but seems almost ready to find it.

Disney’s Alice Through the Looking Glass opens this week.