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Movie Review: ‘Alice Through the Looking-Glass’

Burton’s Wonderland was louder and faster and more garish than any of the source material, but there was still enough of the familiar for us to recognize some semblance of the original. The same can’t be said for the latest installment, the new Alice Through the Looking-Glass.

In Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Alice is a grown woman, captaining her father’s merchant ship, “The Wonder.” The earliest scenes depict her daringly saving her boat, crew and cargo from pirates. (You may, for a few minutes, worry that you’ve stumbled into the wrong theatre; Pirates of the Caribbean is only the first of several blockbusters whose influence you’ll recognize here. Other scenes seem to have been lifted wholesale from Hugo, Frozen, Minions, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Transformers. Why one of our most inventive filmmakers chose to borrow so much is a mystery to me.)

In fairness, Burton elected not to direct the latest Alice (that title goes to James Bobin), but he does serve as its producer, and his hand is everywhere — especially in two of its most memorable characters: the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter. They’re played with manic energy and dewy-eyed pathos, respectively, by Burton regulars Helena Bonham-Carter and Johnny Depp. Personally, I could have done with much more of her and considerably less of him.

Any connection to the actual Looking-Glass novel disappears the moment Alice glides through her first mirror (at a party scene at her ex-fiance’s where she is trying to save her mother’s house and father’s ship). Screenwriter Linda Woolverton has woven in unnecessary (and overlong) backstories for the two queens (Bonham-Carter and Anne Hathaway) and the Hatter. She has also crafted an entirely new central plot involving time-travel and Time himself, personified by a Prussian-accented clock-man Sacha Baron Cohen. This, unfortunately, opens the door to countless puns about time. (Carroll, a much more intelligent wordsmith, may be rolling in his grave.) It’s unclear whether Time is a villain or not; in fact, no one is afforded that distinction here, which is a shame. I think children like a good bad guy, as J. M. Barrie (Carroll’s most obvious literary successor) recognized when he handed Captain Hook to Peter Pan.

If Alice Through the Looking-Glass has a saving grace, it’s the message that women are as capable as men. This isn’t new — critics have long discussed and often celebrated the feminist themes of the original novels. The Hatter (and Burton’s seemingly neverending infatuation with Depp) is far too central to the story. But it remains, barely, Alice’s adventure. The lovely Mia Wasikowska is a game participant in all the madness, but deserves a better movie.

As do the original Alices, fact and fiction.

 

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