Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 53 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 3; Language 0; Sex/Nudity 0.
Our star rating (1-5): 3.5
Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.
1 Corinthians 16:13
Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart.
Although James Bobin has taken over the directorship from Tim Burton, the latter is listed as a producer for this film. His influence is still evident in the sequel, most of the cast of the first film returning, as well as scriptwriter Linda Woolverton. However, other than the characters and the parallel worlds on the two sides of the looking glass, the story bears little resemblance to Lewis Carroll’s book. Instead of being 6 months older, Alice is now a grown woman when she gazes into and passes through the looking glass. Indeed, she is a ship’s captain, an unlikely circumstance in that Victorian era, the modern writer thus injecting a note of feminism into the film. Even more, Woolverton has turned the whimsical fantasy into a father/son story heading toward a reconciliation—and she has mixed in a little of H.G. Wells’ Time Machine also.
Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska), after cleverly eluding pirates, returns from her three year sea voyage to China, only to find that her dead father’s ship and her mother’s home are in danger of being taken over by her former fiancé Hamish (Leo Bill). Although these are serious enough problems—Hamish, upset that she had rejected him, wants to reduce her from a captaincy to an office clerk—she is visited by her old friend Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman in his last speaking role), who tells her she is needed badly— “You’ve been gone too long, Alice. There are matters which might benefit from your attention.” Thus she steps through the glass and tumbles down once more into the crazy world that is Wonderland.
The matter needing her attention concerns Hatter Tarrant Hightopp (Johnny Depp). All of the animals are worried about him because he refuses to come out of his hat-shaped house. He does not answer Alice’s knock, but she enters anyway, discovering that he seems to be dying. He is the victim of a broken heart, the cause going back many years to his poor relationship with his disapproving father Pimlick Hightopp, an expert hatter. The lonely Mad Hatter assumes that his family has died. The White Queen (Anne Hathaway) tells Alice that they must go back to the past and help him recover the family he has lost.
The only way they can do this is by the aid of Time (Baron Cohen), but he refuses to loan out his Chronosphere, a brass ball electrical contraption enabling its operators to sail through the years to a specific point in time. Of course, Alice “borrows” it, and with the Mad Hatter and friends revisits past scenes. The White Queen’s sister the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) also wants the device, so the party has two pursuers.
Intriguingly a tiny torn hat that Hatter had made as a boy but was cruelly criticized by the father (it was he who had torn it when the boy showed him what he had made) becomes a dual symbol—of parental rejection for the son, and of parental regret for the father. Of course, before we learn this there are lots of goofy adventures. Included in all of these are the expected characters– White Rabbit and the grinning Cheshire Cat, the twins, Tweedles Dee and Dum, Humpty Dumpty, and some dangerous chess pieces.
The mish mash of a plot will not endear the film to fans of Carroll’s book, the latter so cleverly weaving the game of chess throughout. Here chess figures in just one menacing scene. The films special effects, especially in 3-D, are eye-catching, but the latter is not worth the extra $3 or $4, especially for a family with more than one child. The film is good family fare, but I don’t think is destined to become a classic like the studio’s recent Jungle Book. The latter has set such a high standard that this watered down Carroll story inevitably pales in comparison.
Still, it is good to see another daring female adventurer for our young daughters to look up to.
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the June issue of VP.