[Screen It]


(2016) (Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp) (PG)

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Fantasy/Adventure: A 19th-century teen returns to a fantastical world and then travels back into its past in hopes of saving the Mad Hatter's family and thus him in the present.
It's 1875 and after three years of sailing around the world in her late father's ship as its captain, twenty-something Alice (MIA WASIKOWSKA) has returned to London to learn that her former but spurned suitor, Hamish Ascot (LEO BILL), now runs the business of which Alice's mother, Helen (LINDSAY DUNCAN), is part owner. Upon hearing that her mother sold her shares and that their ship must now be signed over to Hamish or they'll lose their house -- all of which means Alice will likely become a lowly clerk for him -- Alice follows her old friend, the butterfly Absolem (voice of ALAN RICKMAN), through a magic mirror back into the magical world of Underland.

There, she encounters her friends from before, including the White Rabbit (voice of MICHAEL SHEEN), a hare in a waistcoat and carrying a pocket watch; twins Tweedledee (MATT LUCAS) and Tweedledum (MATT LUCAS); feisty dormouse Mallymkun (voice of BARBARA WINDSOR); the bodiless and often vanishing Cheshire Cat (voice of STEPHEN FRY); bloodhound Bayard (voice of TIMOTHY SPALL); March Hare (voice of PAUL WHITEHOUSE); and Mirana, the White Queen (ANNE HATHAWAY).

They're all concerned about their fellow friend, the Mad Hatter (JOHNNY DEPP), who isn't acting like himself. It seems he's found the first hat he ever made as a child for his father, Zanik Hightopp (RHYS IFANS), and believes that must mean if it survived, then so must have his father and the rest of his family who were believed to have perished in the past.

To make things right, and since she's the only one who can do so as she has no past self in Underland, Alice volunteers to travel back in time to save them from a fierce dragon known as Jabberwocky who was unleashed by the White Queen's vengeful sister, the Red Queen (HELENA BONHAM CARTER).

But to do so, Alice must visit Time himself (SACHA BARON COHEN) and ask to borrow the chronosphere from the master clock. It can turn into a time machine, but he refuses her request, a similar response given to the Red Queen when she wants the same to get revenge on her sister and rule the past, present, and future. Undeterred, Alice steals the device and travels to the past, with Time in hot pursuit. As she progressively travels further back in time, Alice discovers the truth about various characters and tries to fix things, unaware that it's difficult to change the past.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Time travel movies nearly always fall into one of two categories and while they can involve traveling in either direction, the vast majority go backward (as there are more ramifications that way). One such set has characters who accidentally end up traveling through time, such as Marty McFly in the original "Back to the Future" where he escapes from terrorists, ends up back in the 1950s, and must deal with the collateral time-space continuum damage of meeting his parents before they were even a couple.

The other, more prevalent set of such genre films, however, involve characters making that trip with a mission, and that's usually to change their present by changing the past. The "Terminator" films are prime examples of that where human and non-human characters leave a post-apocalyptic world and head to the past before the war between humans and machines broke out, with one set wanting to kill the mother of the yet to be born leader, while the other wants to stop that.

Of course, all of those sorts of films end up generating post-viewing discussions along the lines of "But if that was changed, then it would have affected…" As Basil Exposition stated in one of the Austin Powers movies, "I suggest you don't worry about those things and just enjoy yourself."

That certainly applies to "Alice Through the Looking Glass," the follow-up to Tim Burton's 2010 "Alice in Wonderland" adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic. Here, the tale -- penned by a returning Linda Woolverton and directed by James Bobin -- is of the backward headed time travel variety, and one where the trip is purposeful.

After a several minute action-filled prologue where we see our title character (Mia Wasikowska) leading her all-male crew through treacherous shoals via some pluck and ingenuity to avoid some nasty pirates, things settle down in 1875 London upon her return there following a three-year stint of traveling the world.

She's uncommon for her time and gender, but is put in her place by her former suitor (Leo Bill) who informs Alice that her mother (Lindsay Duncan) sold their partial shares in a company he now runs, and that they'll have to sign over their ship in order to save their house. Alice wants no part of that, and despite having no fear of pirates, finds herself fearful of Hamish's men and thus follows a familiar caterpillar turned butterfly (voiced by the late, great Alan Rickman) through a magic mirror and back into Underland.

There, she meets Mirana, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and the rest of the familiar characters, only to learn that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is more out of sorts than usual. He's come to believe that his family might not have perished at the hands (okay, wings and fire of) the Red Queen's dragon. Yet, rather than be hopeful, he's turned morose and subdued.

The only solution, it seems to be, is for Alice to travel back in time and save his family (she's the only one who can do that as she has no past in the past and thus won't set off a horrible chain reaction should she meet a younger version of herself -- a long running problem and staple of time travel flicks).

While some of the surrounding characters think this is a bad idea, that seems more of a simple gut reaction rather than actually worrying about the old "butterfly effect" of changing one little thing in the past leading to a huge "the future's been altered" ripple upon her return. With neither Alice nor the film's storytellers concerned about that, she heads off to ask the physical personification of time (Sasha Baron Cohen) to borrow something called the chronosphere for a little time traveling.

He's against that, but while dealing with his love interest (Helen Bonham Carter reprising her big-headed role), Alice steals it, heads back, and he sets out in hot pursuit. By this time, the film's costumes, effects, production design and such will have likely impressed viewers of all ages. But for yours truly, it all felt like empty if busy spectacle with little more than two-dimensional characters occupying space.

Yet, once the progressive trips backward start to take place and we learn a thing or two about the characters, their pasts, and what makes them currently tick, the film becomes more interesting and engaging. Mind you, it's nothing we haven't seen before and it's not terribly deep. But that change gives the film some heart and us some empathy about its characters, and that goes a long way in turning the pic around in the second half.

All of which means that "Alice Through the Looking Glass" ends up being an okay diversion, sure to enthrall younger viewers while it might eventually engage older ones in tow. It rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed May 24, 2016 / Posted May 27, 2016

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