Whether navigating a ship to safety in the midst of a fierce storm, raising prim Victorian eyebrows at her whimsical wardrobe, or telling off her doltish, spurned, would-be fiancé Hamish (Leo Bill), it is obvious that Alice (Mia Wasikowska) in Disney’s Alice Through the Looking Glass is not Lewis Carroll’s classic wide-eyed naif of the blue dress and pinafore fame. Sure, Carroll’s Alice too, had a lofty vocabulary, sense of adventure and penchant for occasional sassiness, but in an era of Katniss, Tris, and Khaleesi—perhaps those qualities alone just weren’t going to cut it in 2016.
Of course, in Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland, our heroine was also slightly sassier than her predecessor, but now she has matured even more into a headstrong, slightly reckless feminist.
Other than the fact that Alice walks through a mirror into another world, this story doesn’t resemble the original at all. Instead, it's all about time travel. When Alice meets up with her old pals (The White Rabbit, Dormouse, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, etc.) she discovers a distraught Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp). His health is failing—his vivid orange hair is slowly fading to white—because he fears the fate of his missing family. Spurred on by the White Queen, Mirana (Anne Hathaway) Alice steals a contraption called the chronosphere, using it to time travel in an attempt to prevent harm from happening to Hatter’s family, and hopefully return in time to save him.
Are you still with me?
Havoc ensues as Alice learns that “you can’t the change the past—but you can learn from it.” All in all, the film was a bit confusing and overly frenetic at times, but still highly entertaining. Take a look at this list of the five best things about it, before it hits theaters on May 27.
1. The Scene Stealers
Sacha Baron Cohen as Time itself and Helena Bonham Carter as Iracebeth the giddily malevolent Red Queen are an absolute riot. Remember these two in Les Miserables? Brilliant. They are each a perfect blend of evil and comical. Baron Cohen, who is a half man, half clock (with a man bun!), is like some mechanical version of The Grim Reaper. He orders around his minions, “the seconds,” and determines when people die by plucking their hanging pocket watch out of the sky and snapping it shut. He is both bumbling and brilliant as he curses in an indeterminable Euro accent about the fact that his “inwincible machine is all too wincible!” Meanwhile, perfectly encapsulating her character’s joy at other’s suffering, Bonham Carter lifts up an ant farm where she has trapped miniature humans, gleefully shakes it, screams ”Earthquake!” then laughs.
2. The Costumes
Oscar-winning designer Colleen Atwood has done it again. The Mad Hatter’s magical jacket is festooned with spools of thread and colorful ribbon dangling from safety pins. One of his rings is a pin cushion, complete with a stick, another, a thimble. The Red and White Queens, Alice and Time, also have beautiful, intricate, and whimsical costumes, reminding us of why Atwood has been nominated (and won) that gold statuette so many times, including for 2010’s Alice in Wonderland.
3. The Tea Party
When Baron Cohen's Time stops by the Mad Hatter’s tea party to wait for Alice, puns about time run rampant. It’s the kind of wordplay Carroll would have loved. As he lays across Cohen’s head, the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry) proclaims, “I’m on Time.” As Depp places Cohen’s hand over his own he announces, “I’ve got Time on my hands,” and the dormouse and rabbit get in on the act too with quips like, “Time is on my side,” “See Time Fly,” “Time heals all wounds” ... you get the idea.
4. The Origin Stories
We get to find out why the Red Queen’s heart-shaped head is so huge, why she hates everyone (especially The Hatter and her sister), and that her “good” sister Mirana was actually the naughty one when they were young (gasp!). And we also find out that The Mad Hatter has some major daddy issues.
5. The Sets and Effects
From the Red Queen’s heart-shaped palace, to the Mad Hatter’s hat-shaped house and Time’s imposing castle, the sets are nothing short of fantastical, with visual references to such artists as M.C. Escher, Hieronymus Bosch, and surrealists Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali. One favorite set of mine was the quirky study Alice finds herself in after following Absolem the Caterpillar (voiced by the late Alan Rickman) through the looking glass. A tiger skin rug yawns, chess pieces walk and talk, Humpty Dumpty falls and breaks, and we get to hear Alice utter her catch phrase, “Curioser and Curioser.”