“I will restore order to the Universe.”
Walking out of the movie theatre, the only quote I could remember was this so-heroic-that-it’s-funny line by Alice. My friends and I had a good laugh over this poorly worded line, which sounds so teen-angsty out of context.
And yet, even if we put director James Bobin’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass” back into its context of the Lewis Carroll fantasy, the much-anticipated sequel is still an awkward bedtime story that dangles between the realms of kid and adult movies.
In this sequel to 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland,” Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now a brave young sea captain returning to Underland to save Hatter (Johnny Depp), who is heartbroken that his family may not have been killed by the Jabberwocky, but are alive and lost in a place he can’t find. So Alice travels back in time to find Hatter’s family, meanwhile gathering strength and wisdom to deal with the loss of her father. I guess you could say the theme is love and companionship – between Alice and her parents, Hatter and his family, and Alice and all of her Underland friends.
The only new element is the concept of time. Time is actually a character played by Sacha Baron Cohen, who handles the role perfectly with an accent that seems to be a mixture of all European accents. Time is personable, understandably insolent (he controls time, life, and death), and brave when needed. One of my favorite inventions is the hall with pocket watches hanging from the ceiling, symbolizing the lifetime of everyone. The thought that your life is ticking away with everyone else’s is both horrendous and beautiful, but Time’s funny persona makes it easy to watch.
I also love how this movie is a tribute to the late Alan Rickman, the voice of the beloved caterpillar/butterfly Absolem. “You’ve been gone too long, Alice. And do mind your step.”
However, there are some unsatisfying aspects too. First, it is, of course, great to see Alice being a boss, challenging conventional standards. She is a sea captain with sass. When asked to help Hatter, she agrees without hesitation. However I prefer the simple, brave yet imperfect Alice. In both movies she believes in achieving the impossible, but in “Through the Looking Glass,” she is too pragmatic. She no longer gasps in awe when she sees a stunning garden or a daunting castle. Her new “pure heroine” persona doesn’t match Carroll’s concept of “We are but older children.” She is no longer distracted by anything, and thus, I think, will never return to the wonders of Underland again.
In addition, the movie contains few references to the book. Except for Alice traveling literally “through the looking glass,” the sequel clings more to the previous movie than Carroll’s stories. The movie’s nervous need to explain what happened in its predecessor felt awkward. The special effects are stunning, but compared to the Gothic yet bright beauty of the previous Tim Burton movie, everything looks a bit too typical for a Lewis Carroll-inspired story.
This might just be me being a teenage girl, but I also hated how Hatter got friend-zoned – both by Alice and by the screenplay. Hatter and Alice’s “friendship” kept revolving around the words “You trust me” and “I trust you,” yet both of them seemed very at peace saying good-bye. They didn’t even use the word fairfarren!
Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge Alice fan. The star-studded cast does Lewis Carroll’s classics justice, and I am so glad today’s technology can help people see an actual Underland. But just as Alice only demonstrated her feminist courage by taking on physical challenges, the poetry of the whole movie is a bit too physical and shallow. Oops, Alice got stuck halfway through the looking glass!
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.