It’s impressive how quickly discussion of the movie Alice Through the Looking Glass vanished off the internet, but also not particularly surprising. I saw the movie when it first came out and wrote up my thoughts then, but now they’re here for your viewing pleasure.
After tripping around in the real world for a while – hitting those improper and scandalous notes pretty hard – Alice flees into a looking glass. Back in Wonderland (Underland, whatever) the Hatter has begun to waste away. He’s convinced that his family is alive and in need of saving, but no one believes him. Alice is also not particularly convinced, but decides that she can go back in time and save his family from the Jabberwocky.
By itself, this would simply be a silly storyline; it’s worse sin that it further corrodes the Hatter as an unfathomable and disjointed character. However, it is not by itself. The rest of the movie is spent jumping from one time to the next, never giving us time to breathe or take in the visuals; visuals, mind you, that are in general pretty good, even if they are often tired and sloppy.
Ultimately, we get a bunch of origin stories, which is a baffling choice for a story like Alice in Wonderland. Origin stories are really about explaining why the world is currently formed this way. Origin stories are about logic. Giving Wonderland characters origins with simplistic motivations only makes the characters boring and their weird quirks silly.
Origin story 1: Back in time we see the very tired story line of a young boy who just wants to be creative and have fun. However he is stifled by his overbearing father. Both of his parents are frustratingly stereotypical and lodged tightly in overdone gender-roles. His father is gruff and unforgiving and his mother is emotional, attempting to bring the family together as she insists that her husband is too hard on their son. Hatter leaves after a tiff and hasn’t seen them since.
In the end, they discover Hatter’s family wasn’t killed by the Jabberwocky, but is being held captive by the Red Queen (yeah, I’m sure that was what they were planning in movie 1). After they save his family, Hatter’s father accepts Hatter for no particular reason. The acceptance feels more like it’s born more out of PTSD from being trapped in a glass case than anything else. The family story is also weird because somewhere early in life Hatter becomes certifiably insane. That is the point of his character. Having this white-faced, pink-eyed young man bouncing around an oddly stringent Victorian family, who are concerned more about his desire to have fun than his insanity, is unreasonable on many, many levels. I’m not a huge fan of the way Wonderland has been made to fit social norms, but if that’s the goal, it should at least be consistent.
Origin story 2: As a child, the White Queen one day ate a tart she wasn’t supposed to eat and hid the crumbs under her sister’s bed. The Red Queen was later punished for this and, after running out into the street, bumps her head on a stone. This is the reason her head has swelled. So basically, the entire war and the death of hundreds of people was caused by a tart. First of all, the size of the queen’s head is very fairy talesque. When you try to explain a fairy tale using our scientific logic, you immediately make it difficult on yourself. There’s nothing magical about bumping your head and nothing ordinary about having a head as large as the Red Queen’s.
After much mayhem and running about in the present, The White Queen apologizes for lying about the tart and the sisters are entirely reconciled. The Red Queen even says that all she wanted was for the White Queen to admit she’d done it. It is wildly difficult to believe that their entire relationship was destroyed because of this simple act and it’s even harder to believe that all the White Queen had to say was ‘sorry’ to fix it. Like the Hatter and his father, there’s no build up and no time spent on the relationship. I also ask, why do we need to know the origin of the queen’s head? Why do we need them to reconcile? This is the Hatter’s story and throwing in the Red Queen just muddles his story up.
Also, there’s a villain in this picture. I almost forgot. The villain is the physical representation of Time. Time as a villain is pretty pathetic. His outfit is silly (those wings, man, those wings) and he’s introduced by knocking his head on a gate and falling over. He’s bumbling, incompetent, obnoxious, and all around uninteresting. If the Red Queen was already going to be the villain (since she’s the one who has Hatter’s family), having him there seems unnecessary. He certainly never does anything. He feels like he might have been a fun villain in a movie for younger children, but in a story that is geared at least towards teenagers, he doesn’t make much sense.
And finally, I must comment on the visuals and plot elements that feel so amazingly similar to Alice: Madness Returns. Alice: Madness Returns is a video game that takes the Alice storyline in an incredibly dark direction (it’s amazing, go play it). Let me point to the two biggest similarities. In Madness Returns, in between levels, Alice returns to the real world. Towards the end, she ends up in an asylum that attempts to do very nasty things to her. In the movie, she also briefly jumps back into the real world into an asylum. The scene in the asylum is rushed, stereotypical, and pointless. It feels like they liked how Madness Returns did it, but didn’t have a good reason to use it. What really convinced me was the Red Queen’s palace. In Madness Returns, the palace is made of organic material like hearts and muscles and blood. It’s also a very vertical level. The palace in the movie was made of roots, but the design was very similar. The way the scenes are shot is also very vertical, as Alice and everyone else run up through the palace. Given the popularity of the game, it’s hard not to see influences from the game onto the movie; influences that don’t make a lot of sense given the wildly different tones.
So I guess you could go for the visuals, but ultimately it’s a messy story and there’s better things to see.