Review: ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ Is Weird For All the Wrong Reasons

alice looking glass review

When I saw the first live-action film, Alice in Wonderland, I found the whole thing sort of…OK.

It wasn’t very good or anything, but the 3D at the time was so stunning, and the effects so magical, it was easy to overlook how off-putting it was to see Alice being transposed as a fantasy hero, complete with a boring, unrelated side plot in the real world.

Over half a decade later, her adventures continue, though not much has changed to the film’s detriment. It seems Disney learned from all the wrong takeaways in that first film’s success, namely how important the Mad Hatter deserves to be in his role thanks to the fact that Johnny Depp is playing him.

Below are my lingering thoughts on the film, but my full review and breakdown is available here.

I suspect that the only people who will care for this sequel are strict fans of Burton’s 2010 interpretation. And I suspect even further that those fans will be mixed on Looking Glass for the most part. Unless you have a sadist passion for seeing the Mad Hatter and Alice embarking on elaborate adventures in Wonderland just for the sake of it, then this entire film will ring as hollow as the 3D.

alice looking glass review

In the review I linked above, I go into detail over why the story and purpose of Looking Glass is atrocious to the point of my stamping it a very low grade (lower than the “C” I would grade Alice in Wonderland). But I glossed over points about the visuals and how the film measures up to the books.

As far as the books go, I’m not very disappointed with how they’ve been adapted, if only because it’s probably impossible for anyone to adapt them faithfully. Carroll wrote them to be veiled absurdist stories that criticized the Victorian Era, so a more modern interpretation suffers a herculean task: how can you use wordplay to capture the spirit of the original while also applying the Carroll effect to current events? If any filmmaker was able to do this successfully, they’d have a masterpiece on their hands. But for obvious reasons, that will probably never happen, at least anytime soon.

When it comes to the CGI, I have little doubt that this will be a splitting point between fans and critics. Some of the actual design and movement of these characters is solid, even compelling at times. My main issue with them is that the existence of the green screen was all too apparent throughout the film, thanks to bizarre hiccups in lighting that contradicted the faces of the characters with their backgrounds. Why some are heralding this as a visual treat on par with this year’s Jungle Book completely baffles me, but for whatever reason, I’ll probably be the minority opinion on that front.

alice looking glass review

So chances are that you’ll enjoy the visuals and hopefully overlook the massive narrative issues that doomed this film for critics like me. Otherwise, you’re probably better off scouring for other, better adaptions of Looking Glass, including the somewhat decent 1998 movie with Kate Beckinsale.

Grade: D

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

3 thoughts on “Review: ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ Is Weird For All the Wrong Reasons

  1. Thanks for the honest review, Jon. I greatly disliked the first Burton film and have had little hopes for this franchise since then. Like you said, this is a story that could have its own masterpiece one day, as long as it’s in the right hands.

  2. When I saw that you had a review up for “Through the Looking-Glass”, my first reaction was, “ooh, neat”. My second reaction was, “wait — I haven’t seen it yet!” But I already stepped in front of the mirror, so I might as well step through. (Is that the equivalent of “going down the rabbit hole” from the first book?)

    I worried a little if reading this review could ruin the movie for me. But, considering how well the first movie did, I’ll assume that it doesn’t need any help from you on that account. 😉 Having read it, I don’t feel any more disheartened than I already kind of felt when I saw that the movie was coming out. (My initial reaction was one of excitement, but then I remembered that I didn’t particularly like the first film. I guess I hoped that the sequel could always improve. I don’t know where I got that childlike enthusiasm from. I remember T2 improving over The Terminator, but some people don’t agree with that.)

    Anyways, I can’t exactly reply in kind without seeing the movie (I haven’t even seen a trailer, just the images). So, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go over some of my thoughts on the first film.

    When the first movie came out, I should have been excited about it because it was directed by Tim Burton and featured Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Burton and Depp have made a great pair in the past, notably with Edward Scissorhands. Depp and Bonham Carter have also made a great pair, moreso in chemistry than in anything notable.

    The problem creeps in when I realize that so many of Burton’s films have been less than magical of late. This is one of those films that requires magic. (Not just because it’s “Disney” but because it’s “Alice”.) Same can be said for Depp, but a better direction might have been able to bring it out of him, I don’t know.

    I think the reason that a film like “Wonderland” suffered is that it wasn’t made with genuine intention. It was made for Burton’s and Depp’s kids (I assume with great confidence). They don’t make a film like this because of the art but to entertain children. Trust me, as a child, a movie like Edward Scissorhands entertained me. Pandering is rarely as effective.

    As you indicate a bit with the sequel, we’re witnessing the winning of style over substance. That’s what we got with “Wonderland”. I enjoyed the behind the scenes features — how they did things, like the different sizes and yet still could interact believably, for example — more than I enjoyed the film. I liked some parts, like the pig 🙂 , but maybe I was a bit put off by how much it diverted from the story of the animated film and the book(s).

    You painted the sequel as a sloppy fan fiction story, and I wonder if that’s due to the limitations of creating a story in “Alice’s” world without having more official source material to draw from. I believe you said that in your full review, but I sort of think it was true for the first film, too. I had much hope for some of the new elements of “Wonderland” to be more interesting than they turned out to be. It was executed well enough for a major Hollywood studio, but probably didn’t warrant a sequel.

    A few stray thoughts before I close out:

    The Mad Hatter had a weird look (not the great kind of weird) but I also think he could have done more with hats or drinking mercury or something. Why didn’t we go on a “trip” with him? Did I miss it?
    The White Queen was very forgettable. What a missed opportunity to create as memorable a character as the Queen of Hearts.
    Oh, yeah, Alice… I think it was more which actress more than the role itself.
    I enjoyed the ridiculousness of the pig and the fake noses and bosoms and the like, so it’s kind of odd that I leave the film not being thoroughly enjoyed. Maybe it really could have used more absurdity (especially the very dry opening). In the animated film, no one was there to help her, save for “Underland” itself. I guess that’s why there was a lot less senseless making because half the characters were there to help Alice.

    I have to digress on one thing: If the sequel is that bad, wouldn’t the Flutterwacken have saved it? 😉 I know it was a very ridiculous “dance” but it was amusing (and disturbing) enough… lol

    • Whoops. My little “list” asterisks disappeared. Hopefully that’s readable enough still.

      Also, “looking-glass”? Would it be too blasphemous to rename that to “mirror”? hah!

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