Alice (Mia Wasikowska), who followed the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole in 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland,” has returned in the sequel “Alice Through the Looking Glass.” While facing personal challenges in the “real world,” Alice is contacted by butterfly Absolem (voice of the late Alan Rickman, to whom the film is dedicated) and returns to help her friends with their troubles.
The action begins with Alice captaining her late father’s sailing ship which is being pursued by pirates. Upon safely returning to London, she is anxious to speak to her employer about future trade opportunities. However, Alice’s new boss is Hamish (Leo Bill), the suitor she chose not to marry. Ever the chauvinist, Hamish tells Alice she must sign over her ship to him, quit sailing, and become a clerk in his office or he will foreclose on her mother’s home. None of this suits Alice, but her mother advises women must accept “they can’t make things as they want them to be.”
As Alice contemplates her options, she spies butterfly Absolem. Alice follows him through the looking glass and learns her good friend the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is in despair. Hatter believes he’s found evidence his family, long thought killed by the Jabberwocky, may still be alive. Hatter wants Alice’s help to find them. But, when Alice doubts his story, Hatter angrily throws her out of his home.
Concerned for Hatter, Alice consults with White Queen (Anne Hathaway) who tells Alice she must obtain the Chronosphere from Time (Sasha Baron Cohen) and change past events. Time, in turn, tells Alice she can’t alter the past but can only learn from it. Determined to save Hatter’s family, Alice steals the Chronosphere, ending up on an adventure involving younger versions of her friends plus a young, angry Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter).
Director James Bobin keeps the action moving at a steady pace. Members of the original “Alice in Wonderland” cast have returned, as has screenwriter Linda Woolverton. Time travel, a favorite science fiction/fantasy theme, is handled skillfully, revealing backstories for familiar characters. Puns and common sayings about time are sprinkled throughout the dialogue.
Bobin prefers using actual sets and adding CGI details in post-production. To achieve this, Dan Hennah’s production department and Ken Ralston’s visual effects group came through with detailed plans that beautifully blend practical pieces and CGI.
While Alice remains the same age throughout the film, her friends do not. The young actors portraying the White and Red Princesses (Amelia Crouch and Leila De Meza) and young Hatter (Lewis Serkis) are charming and fit their future, grown-up selves. The young versions of Cheshire Cat, Bayard the bloodhound, and Tweedledum and Tweedledee are particularly fun.
The hair, make-up, and costuming enhance the storytelling. Hatter, Time, and the Red Queen experience dramatic changes in appearance when they are impacted by events. Peter Swords King’s make-up and hair team created visual effects that convey the characters’ emotional states. Colleen Atwood’s costumes contain details that reinforce each character’s personality.
Fans of Alice’s adventures, both on the screen and in the Lewis Carroll original stories, will enjoy journeying with her on this latest fantastic trip.