Having just seen Disney’s Alice Through the Looking Glass on opening night, with a paying audience at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, I am late in filing my review. I had a mixed reaction to the film, but I am somewhat surprised by the hostility expressed by my fellow critics. I took it as a given that this sequel to the 2010 Disney megahit would have little to do with Lewis Carroll. I also knew that screenwriter Linda Woolverton would call on the same female-empowerment theme that marked the previous Alice, directed by Tim Burton. And I knew that this modern interpretation of Alice would be perfectly personified by Mia Wasikowska, who seems incapable of striking a false note on screen.
There are many pleasures to be had in this eye-filling extravaganza, from an opening storm at sea (with Alice as the captain of a sailing ship) to the steampunk-like world commanded by Time, played with comic relish by Sacha Baron Cohen.
To my relief, Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter is a mellower figure this time around; he is also melancholy to the point of depression, which impels Alice to travel back in time in order to save his now-departed family. (This involves the peril of tinkering with events of the past, which as any Twilight Zone fan knows, is highly dangerous.) Even Helena Bonham Carter, who was so furiously funny in the 2010 movie, doesn’t have to work as hard to convey her outsized emotions here.
These performances compete with the beauty and extravagance of Dan Hennah’s production design. Having worked on The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit movies, he is well versed in fantasy on a grand scale. So is director James Bobin, having worked with Flight of the Conchords and directed the two recent Muppet movies.
But, I will admit, I grew tired at a certain point. Like many of these elaborate “tentpole” blockbusters, Alice can be exhausting. I didn’t mind the fact that so many characters’ backstories are spelled out in literal fashion, but having accepted and even embraced the time-travel premise, I was ready for the filmmakers to wrap things up long before they did.
Having heard dreadful things about the movie going in, I was pleasantly surprised that I liked it as much as I did. And I remain a card-carrying member of Mia Wasikowska’s fan club. Lewis Carroll purists should stay away, but judging by last night’s Disney-centric audience, I think moviegoers will find much to enjoy.