[Parent’s Content Advisory at bottom of review.]
“Time is a thief and a villain.”
With those words–and a fun “Master and Commander”-style opening sea adventure scene–Alice begins her new adventures (and conflicts) that lead to another surreal journey into Underland in Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Given the dismal ratings from critics (28% currently on Rotten Tomatoes), my expectations weren’t high. But the film was better than I expected. Its storyline had weak points, sadly, but the gorgeous visuals and enjoyable characters (I rather like the new character Time, played by Sacha Baron Cohen) made it a fun outing to the theater. I was happy to have watched it, despite its weaknesses, and I disagree with some of the harsh reviews from many of the critics.
I also kept in mind that this PG film is not really meant for adults primarily. It is working along the same lines as a Pixar film. Its primary demographic is the younger viewers who are old enough to watch more intense PG movies, but it throws in as many elements for adults as it can within reason.
But did it succeed?
Let’s tackle that question first, and then we’ll look at any themes of redemption or possible hints of worldview behind the film.
Entertainment Value and Film Craft
I sometimes felt that its screenplay didn’t take itself seriously enough, as if their attitude was, “Well, kids won’t care about these plot holes or weaknesses, so let’s not do another revision and spend more time and money trying to write a masterpiece.”
There are always two voices that compete in my headspace when I go to the movies: one of general cynicism, dislike and mistrust toward the filmmakers and movie studio executives because A) they have been known to express a profound disdain and disrespect toward their moviegoers (I remember hearing about one executive who called all of us moviegoers “cattle”); and B) one of great affection for the art of movie making in general–the childlike wonder that is stirred up every time the screen flickers to life. Even when a movie is terrible, just the basic experience of seeing a story illuminated on a screen with actors, sets, and music still stirs that latter voice to life.
When it comes to movies like “Alice Through The Looking Glass,” I tend to bounce back and forth between the two voices several times a minute. I do feel that this story suffered from a rushed patchwork of plot lines and the hurried pace of commercial production in general. Ironically, the film says “time is never money” as one of its highlighted morals, and yet the film industry, Disney included, relies entirely on the principle that “time is money.” Most directors and screenwriters are always being pressured by the studio to maintain a breakneck pace of production and keep everything under a certain budget.
It feels as if the commercial forces at work squeezed some of the quality out of the script in this film. It felt hyperactive and distracted. It couldn’t focus very long on one thing. I wish it had simplified itself a little and tried a more elegant “less is more” approach. It also felt a little too preachy with some of its messages that were obviously lifted from modern cultural sentiment and forced into the world of Lewis Carroll.
Despite those weaknesses, the latter voice in my film critic mind, the voice of wonder and delight, emerged the victor by the end of the film. “Alice Through The Looking Glass” was a delightful, surrealist adventure with more than enough fun and interesting characters to make it worthwhile.
Redemption Storylines, Worldviews, Edifying Themes
The film explores some deeper themes about what time means in our lives, and it asks questions such as, “Are we using our limited time on earth wisely? Are we valuing the people in our lives or are we valuing possessions and selfish goals more than relationships?”
The film has a strong tone of feministic self-empowerment throughout the screenplay–lots of girl power moments that, at times, felt a little preachy and heavy-handed. The male species in general gets a fairly bad report in this story. Most of the male characters are villainous or made to be profoundly unlikeable in some way. However, the many positive references to Alice’s father balances it out to some extent.
But the film also pays tribute to the power and joy of having a good father and the priceless treasure of family, even when the family members are imperfect. As in the first film, the wonderful bond between Alice and her father is strongly felt. It greatly esteems a child’s relationship with her father and mother.
Conclusion: A Warm-Hearted, Wildly Visual Story That Perhaps Had Eyes Too Big for Its Stomach
Like the strangely enlarged eyes of the Mad Hatter, this film had eyes too large for its stomach and badly wanted to pursue multiple high concept plot ideas. Some of them worked wonderfully (I loved the character Time and the way he interacted with the living and the dead via hanging watches) while some of them crowded the film and made it feel hyperactive and unsettled in its story.
Yet despite these weaknesses, it is a warm-hearted film that values the deep love that a daughter has for her father and mother. She loves them so much, in fact, that she abandons selfish ambitions for the sake of preserving her relationship with her loved ones.
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Content advisory for this film…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality: Time tries to kiss the Queen of Hearts. That’s about as “racy” as it gets.
Violence/Gore/Scary Content: A music box and figurine simulates a king getting his head lopped off by an axe. A child slams her head on concrete after falling (no blood), which causes a personality-altering injuring to her brain. A giant dragon-like beast (the Jabberwocky) is seen attacking a village and setting it on fire. The Mad Hatter becomes very white and grey with black sunken eyes as if he has died.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: None.