Alice Through the Loooking Glass

ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS. Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, and Sacha Baron Cohen. Directed by James Bobin. Rated PG (Mild themes, some scenes may scare young children). 113 min.

This is a fantasy-adventure film that loosely draws its inventiveness from Lewis Carroll's children classics, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass". It is the sequel to Tim Burton's 2010 movie, "Alice in Wonderland", and major actors in the original film reprise their roles in the sequel. Tim Burton, who directed the 2010 film, has co-produced it.

Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) returns to London after captaining her deceased father's ship in wars on the high seas. Back home, she gazes into a giant, magic looking-glass, which takes her back to the world of Wonderland. There, she finds The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), who has sunk into deep sadness. He is especially miserable about his missing family.

In an effort to save The Hatter, her "truest friend", Alice seeks out Time (Sacha Baron Cohen), who is half-human, and half clock-work. Time is the keeper of a gold-coloured chromosphere that has the capacity to change the past. Time uses it to keep a check on Wonderland (or Underland as it now is); the banished Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) wants Time's device to put herself back on the throne; and Alice needs it to travel back to the past to help The Hatter and his family. Alice also needs it to return her to London, which was the starting-point of her fantasy adventure.

The film offers a rich assortment of images that try to capture the lure of Carroll's original stories. Gone is the charming playfulness of the characters in Carroll's Wonderland, and in its place are a number of striking images with something of a gothic touch. Carroll's seductive imagery gets lost in the fantasy creations of the film's Director, James Bobin. The special effects are impressive, but for young children some of them will be frightening. Time, for example, wears a giant clock breastplate and is in charge of a fumbling, robotic army whenever, and wherever, he requires it. Time and his army have sinister intent, but they behave with comic gusto.

The film achieves a degree of sensory overload that immerses the viewer into an imaginary world that is extraordinary, but it offers the viewer a fantasy spectacle that is imbedded digitally within a busy plot that spins out of control.

Many of the old characters and situations surface again. There is conflict between the two Queens - the fiery Red Queen, and the calmer White Queen (Anne Hathaway) - each sorting out their rights to a kingdom they both want to own. Alice is still very much the strong female character with headstrong resolve (which Wasikowska plays well); and familiar characters like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, The Cheshire Cat, and the White Rabbit are introduced to entertain.

There is much to admire. The animation is excellent. The costuming is lavish and eye catching, and some of the images are ravishing. The film's direction, however, lacks control. It is hard, for example, to know the meaning half-way through the movie of finding Alice, back in London, strapped to a bed in an asylum for the insane and desperate to escape? She does, and makes another trip through the magic mirror to Underland. Moral messages, such as the importance of family, abound in the movie, but they are absorbed almost totally by the film's erratic extravagance.

This film provides an entertaining ride through technicolour, imagination-land. But it turns dramatic appeal into fantasy overload, and takes imaginary flight amidst a variety of eye-catching, special effects. Cutting-edge digital technology has been put to good work, but the film's characters and story fall victim to the vividness of it all.

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Walt Disney Studios

Released May 26th., 2016