Alice was… Ok.
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 in a funk over the loss 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).
Rating: PG For Fantasy Action/Peril and some language
Excitement Level: Moderate
First off, it has nothing to do with the actual book “Alice Throught the Looking Glass”. Alice just happens to get to Underland (Wonderland) through a mirror. I’m ok with that though. While I highly recommend reading the Lewis Carrol classics, they aren’t exactly Hollywood storyline material. So this is the storyline they came up with to fit the Hollywood story fits enough.
Of course, it is the continuation of the Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” that came out a few years ago. I only ever saw that one in theaters, but from what I remember, I like that one better than this one. But I honestly really only remember the characters from that movie, not the storyline. Knowing the characters was enough to pick up what was going on in this one, however.
It starts out a little bit confusing, mostly due to the previews. In the previews, it shows Alice in an asylum. I mean, I had gotten the impression that that was the setting, and she escapes the Asylum to go to Wonderland. So when the movie starts out in a ship in the high seas, running from pirates. Words to the effect of “It’s Impossible! We should surrender to the Pirates” and Alice’s reply of “You know my feelings on that word!” And then they pull off the impossible kind of make it seem like this is some sort of mad dream or fantasy of Alice’s, hence she’s been put in an asylum.
It’s not. Apparently Alice is really the captain of a ship doing impossible things. So make sure you start out on the right foot.
Alice returns from her year long fantastical voyage to a mother who has been worried sick and a shipping company who was expecting her months ago. None of this phases her; she just wants to go out and sail again. But problems with this plan arise from old grievances, a world that cannot tolerate a strong, confidant young woman, and a mother who wants the best for her daughter, but the daughter and her do not agree on what is best.
These are all good themes, and stereotypes worth challenging. But instead of facing those problems in this world, Alice runs off to Underland, led by Absalom voiced by Alan Rickman (which was a little jolting and terribly sad. You will be missed, Alan).
Underland is facing the mirror problem: The Mad Hatter has gone sane and it is just about killing him. The rest of the inhabitants of Underland want the Mad Hatter back. But Hatter has become obsessed with finding his family who was killed by the Red Queen years ago. Which of course is impossible. Alice tells him so. And Hatter goes into a fury, saying that the real Alice, his true friend, would believe him and help him.
Enter Time Travel, and the rest of the movie. I’ll leave off on the plot right there (will talk more later, in a Spoiler section) and take a look at the other qualities of this film.
Acting: Of course the acting is great. It has a powerhouse of actors. I have absolutely no qualms about the acting. Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Mia Wasikowska, Anne Hathaway, and really everyone else did a superb job, just as they did in Alice in Wonderland. But there is someone new to this movie that deserves above and beyond recognition and notice:
Sacha Baron Cohen as Time Himeself. He might challenge Johnny Depp himself for the breadth and depth of the roles he plays. He is truly a gifted actor, and I REALLY WISH he would do some movies that I actually had any interested in seeing. In case you don’t know, he is most famous for movies like Borat, Bruno, and the Dictator. But he also did an amazing job in Sweeney Todd as Pirelli, and in Les Miserables as Thernadier. The man can sing and act. But for reasons best known to him, he prefers to do incredibly inappropriate movies.
His performance as Time was out of this world though. I wish I could adequately describe it. He WAS time personified. You didn’t think about the actor underneath. He was fascinating and a joy to watch. The writers hit the nail on the head with the character, and Cohen completely brought Time to life.
Characters: Every iteration of Alice in Wonderland has always had fantastical characters who are larger (and smaller) than life and quite mad. I remember loving the characters in the first movie. But for some reason they really grated on me this go around. Maybe because they weren’t novel anymore. Or maybe I’ve *gasp* grown up some. But the complete lack of responsibility in almost all of the characters really irked me. Alice straight up runs from her responsibilities in the real world to Underworld. In Underworld everyone, including the White Queen, want Alice to mess with time and the fabric of reality to try and make Hatter mad again.
Themes/Importance: This movie really tried to tackle some very important themes, and I’ll give them A for Effort. Themes they tried to tackle were: Familial Loyalty. Following your heart vs reality, What it means to be a true friend, achieving the impossible, Asking and giving forgiveness, the means don’t justify the end, and overall girl power.
I really wish I could say that they did a better job at delivering on them. The problem is, they bit off more than they could chew, and their storyline required the characters to wade upstream of the morals they were trying to present, and required one particular theme to be placed in prominence, that being “What it means to be a true friend”.
Don’t get me wrong, being a true friend is something that is great to teach. Too many people and even children, are backstabbers and petty, only thinking of what they can get out of a friendship. But it is also dangerous to push the idea that friendship trumps all else.
True friends are amazing, and can save a life in a crisis. But here is the situuation: Hatter saw his family die years ago. But then he finds a little paper hat he made for his father in the dirt, and now believes they must be alive, and tells Alice that she must find them. When Alice tries to explain that is impossible, he becomes furious and claims Alice is not his friend, that the real Alice would believe him. Heartbroken, Alice and the others decide that the only thing to do is to travel back in time to try and save Hatter’s family.
This involves borrowing the Chronosphere from Time. Problem: Time tells Alice point blank that A) You cannot change the past, only learn from it. And B) The Chronospere powers the Grand Clock. The Grand Clock powers Time itself. And Time Himself. So using the Chronospere has the potential to destroy everything. But to Alice this is an acceptable risk, because her friend needs her.
Personally, I am not ok with teaching children this. In my opinion, a true friend would help Hatter come to terms with his grief and loss, not justify stealing and performing acts that could kill everyone. The ends do not justify the means.
They do try to address this in the very end. Alice does admits to Time that she should have never stolen the Chronosphere. But only after Alice and Hatter get what they want. It is hollow words.
I do love the moral themes that take place between the White and Red Queen; owning up to one’s mistakes and asking for forgiveness. That was done quite well, if late. And better late than never
The most clever part of this movie, which you miss if you aren’t actually analyzing it, is that the real world and Underworld — Alice and the Hatter — Mirror each other. Alice wants nothing to do with her mother and doesn’t want to become like her. Hatter wants to prove he belongs in his family, and wants them back. They find their salvation, in each other. Through the Looking Glass… Mirror Problems and solutions.
I suppose this movie is fun enough. And if you were in love with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland you’re probably going to want to see it anyways. If you’re on the fence, I’d say the tipping point is whether you’re the type of person who is willing to see a movie because one actor’s performance is amazing, then go. If you need the majority of a movie to be on point, then skip this one.
Visual Effects: 3/3
TOTAL SCORE: 9/19