We’re all mad here.
Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) is an accomplished captain sailing her father’s ship and outsmarting pirates. Returning home to London after three years, her mother (Lindsey Duncan) explains that Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill) has taken everything — all because Alice rejected his marriage proposal — but he offers to trade Alice’s ship to return their home. In a difficult spot, she retreats to a room with a large mirror and finds Absolem (the late Alan Rickman), now a blue butterfly, telling her she’s been away from Wonderland too long. Following him through the mirror and back into Wonderland, she meets with The White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and all her old friends who ask her to see Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), who is in a very bad way — and Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) is literally running out.
Alice in Wonderland was a surprise hit for director Tim Burton, so why not a sequel? As a Disney re-imagining using its own characters and taking the story farther, the trailers for this sequel promised a return to the wonder of Wonderland, complete with Alice, The Red Queen, and everyone’s favorite Mad Hatter. What was missing from the trailers was story, and with the mysterious inclusion of the red and black advertised villain Time along with all the clocks and gears, it didn’t look like Wonderland so much as a sequel/remake to the ill-fated Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World — which may not have been the best idea, much like Disney’s aversion to putting the word “Mars” in a film title.
All said and done, fans of the first film should find plenty to love in this installment. What’s interesting here is that the story uses its premise to fill a few blanks in from the original film. Alice is instructed to seek Time’s permission to use the Chronosphere — a spherical time ship that sails the oceans of time — to see what really happened in the Mad Hatter’s past. She conveniently keeps missing her destination, instead catching glimpses of not just Hatter but the broken relationship between the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and the White. Of course, no one can observe the past without changing it, so things eventually start to come unwound.
With a far more complex story this time around, this sequel could give a “Doctor Who” episode a run for its money with all the timey-whimey stuff. Perhaps that was an error; with so many signature visuals looking lifted from other films, the digital sets and visuals look more like borrowed things than its own thing. That’s a shame, too, because there’s some very cool stuff, from Time’s clockwork minions to the Ocean of Time itself. Sacha Baron Cohen gives a standout performance, from serious to whimsical, threatening to heartfelt; he isn’t a bad guy, he’s just doing his job, even if he feels bad doing it — but that doesn’t mean he has to take crap from anybody, either. Small wonder: director James Bobin owes most of his credits to Cohen productions.
Alice Through the Looking Glass feels a bit longer than its just-under two-hour running time and is fine for all ages. If you were a fan of the original, give it a chance but pay attention; there isn’t much time to keep going back over the same story points over and over again.
3 Skull Recommendation Out of Four