When a film makes over $1 billion worldwide, it’s a safe bet that at some point, a sequel will surface. That explains why 2016 includes Alice Through the Looking Glass, a sequel to the 2010 live-action Alice in Wonderland. That film, which was the first major 3D release in the wake of the behemoth that was Avatar, was an unexpected box office hit. That, and the fact that neither the 2010 film nor its 2016 sequel draw their stories from the Lewis Carroll stories of the same names, helps to explain why there’s a huge gap between releases. But Alice in Wonderland isn’t really remembered as a good film; if anything, it’s the prime example of Tim Burton’s lackluster offerings in recent years. For Alice Through the Looking Glass, Burton shifts to producing while James Bobin takes over as director, but beyond that shift and any improvements in technology, can the sequel find a way to surpass the low bar set by the original?
Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has spent her time since the last film sailing the seas as a ship captain. When she finally arrives home, though, she learns that her ship has been sold and she’s been repositioned as a desk clerk. Alice runs away from this news at a party, where she comes across a mirror that transports her back to Underland. Upon her arrival, she learns that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) has fallen into a depression, since no one believes his claims that his family is still alive. In an effort to cheer up her friend, Alice decides to disregard the rules of Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) and take his chronosphere to go to the past to save the Mad Hatter’s family, where she learns about the history between the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).
With the Underland stories, one feels like a plot that’s worthy of a sequel, and one that feels drafted to create something for a “major” character. Of course, the former – in this case, the story of the Red and White Queens – is downplayed at the expense of the latter – the Mad Hatter’s story. This focus would make some sense if Alice was traveling through time with the Mad Hatter by her side, but for some reason, the Mad Hatter’s participation is almost nonexistent. Instead, Alice is left to wander through different periods of time on her own, with younger versions of the Mad Hatter and the Queens popping up.
As for Alice’s actions, there seems to be some sort of disconnect between the intelligent woman living in the real world and the one in Underland who doesn’t seem to understand Time’s rule that she cannot change the past. She’s warned that her actions could destroy Time himself, as well as the rest of Underland, but her pursuit of cheering up the Mad Hatter knows no bounds.
Visually, Alice Through the Looking Glass is an improvement on its predecessor. Part of it is due to this film being natively produced for 3D, while Alice in Wonderland underwent the process in post-production. But while the visual style of this film reflects Underland at the end of the previous film, it also feels a bit lackluster. That may be less due to the visuals, though, than the story, which takes a long time to travel in a relatively small space.
For audiences who liked the first film, there’s not much different here. Otherwise, Alice Through the Looking Glass does little to improve on Alice in Wonderland, so temper your expectations.