You have to wonder — and that’s a word we use with much reluctance here — what Lewis Carroll would have thought. Alice gets an agenda, Mad Hatter gets a family, and the Red Queen gets a reason. However, those aren’t even the cruellest blows to Carroll’s world of a child with no limitations of logic. That would be making Time, that enemy of long, idle days, a friendly neighbourhood “Tick Tock”.
And what a shame that is. For where dreaming was enough for a nine-year-old to travel a parallel world, here the exigencies of 3D-driven pyrotechnics require the filmmakers to introduce time travel, back and forth, beyond the looking glass, with the help of a “chronosphere”. As Alice, now in her 20s (yes, a big-budget film can’t still rest on a child), does that, Time follows in a contraption of his own.
Put aside your reservations about the film hooking itself to Alice in Wonderland, and you can appreciate Bobin’s efforts at imagining the time travel differently. However, do that, and you realise that the only reason Through the Looking Glass is different from its many special-effect summer counterparts is its fascinating characters sprung from the book.
There is Depp, of course, who carries on as the Mad Hatter imagined by Tim Burton in his blockbuster of 2012. That being a shocking mix of bright colours, his expression caught forever in high-surprise, till tinged this time by the memory of his late family. A hint had been provided in the last film, and in Through the Looking Glass, what triggers the Mad Hatter’s melancholy is the discovery of the first hat he had made and given to his father, also a hatter (Ifans).
With him in blue funk (literally, and liberally sprinkled with orange-ness), all his tea-time and other friends gathered around him, including the White Queen (Hathaway) and Cheshire Cat (Fry), are worried. Hard to tell with Hathaway though, who plays White Queen with as much hand-swaying absent-mindedness as before.
In the normal world, Alice has been captaining a ship for three years and has just returned to London after steering it adeptly through a terrible storm. This world again doesn’t sit with her well, and off she enters a mirror. With a quick whiz past a smashed Humpty Dumpty, she lands in the midst of all the gloom.
The Mad Hatter tells Alice he is convinced his family is alive, and that only she can rescue them. So Alice must time travel to the day the jabberwocky attacked them. A quick stopover to get the chronosphere is necessitated at the castle of Time (Baron Cohen), who lives there with his “seconds (the film’s best joke)”. The Red Queen (Carter, as delicious as ever) has been making eyes at him there, seeking the same device.
Given the number of characters and the number of stops on the way, necessitating people running into each other at different ages of their life, Bobin does manage to keep the different strands untangled.
So much for “six impossible things before breakfast”.
Directed by James Bobin
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen, Rhys Ifans, Stephen Fry