This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, May 2016
Tim Burton didn’t direct this follow-up to 2010’s Alice in Wonderland (gosh, was it that long ago?) but his producer credit is totally justified, as is his handing over the reins to director James Bobin (who made both Muppet movies and will be delivering the Men In Black reboot in the near future).
Central to most Burtonesque movies are the outlandishly beautiful settings, the impeccable costuming and an overriding sense of fun and adventure as the plot zips from magic land to magic land. To this end, this Alice definitely feels like the real Alice. Also emblematic of a Burton movie is a usually dark, sinister sensibility which doesn’t manifest quite as strongly in this picturesque and enjoyably boisterous sort-of-sequel.
Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is her independent young female self (dressed in the most beautiful Chinoiserie you’ve ever seen), busily fighting bossy men for a say in her father’s business when she is enticed through the looking glass back into Wonderland. There she discovers the Hatter is suffering self-imposed isolation. Alice is inveigled into going back in time to change the past, but must overcome conflict presented by Time himself (a terrific Sacha Baron Cohen, hilariously speaking like German director Werner Herzog) and the Red Queen (Helena Bonham-Carter).
The film is a mass of sensational special effects creating a fantastical world which is truly delightful to behold. The supporting cast (high-profile faces and voices, all) wing their way through dialogue which occasionally evokes the rhyming couplets of Lewis Carroll’s original work, although the story veers far off into an engrossing back-story for some key characters and a startling revelation as to how one villain came to be so bad. With a finale that looks like Goya painted the destruction of Pompeii, it’s not often I’d place style over content, but Alice Through the Looking Glass is nothing short of splendid.