by Jason Howard Kelly
Let me start by saying this: I only know the story of Alice in Wonderland through the animated Disney movie. I have not read the original books or any other versions of the story. This is purely a review of the movie itself. I am not here to dissect the film for what it did or did not include pertaining to the original story.
I was excited to see this movie as I thoroughly enjoyed the first installment that came to theaters in 2010. I was also happy to know that most of the original cast and voice actors were returning for this second film.
The film opened up with Alice commanding her new ship, which she inherited from her late father. It’s in these opening scenes that we learn of Alice’s new business arrangements with the Ascots and her former husband-to-be, Hamish. Mainly, that the Ascots are attempting to squeeze Alice out of the picture so that they may take control of her father’s company. Alice is quickly lead away from this situation by Absolem as he wisps her away back to Wonderland.
Alice arrives in Wonderland greeted by all of her old companions, except for The Mad Hatter. Her companions, along with the White Queen, reveal to Alice their worries about The Hatter. He came across a memory from his family and his childhood and it has pushed him into a terrible confusion, for he now believes that his family may actually be alive after believing they were dead after all these years. Alice goes to see The Hatter and tells him that he must snap out of his current state and realize that his family is gone. The Hatter pleads with Alice to believe him, but she is not convinced. He eventually becomes upset with Alice and tells her to leave. Alice now knows that she must find out the truth about Hatter’s family in order to help him. The White Queen informs her that there is a way for her to find out the truth, and that is to travel back in time and discover what really happened to them.
As soon as I heard the words, “travel back in time” I immediately cringed. Time travel is always a really dicey concept to base an entire movie around, and can more often than not make the plot more muddled and confusing than is necessary. Regardless, I was willing to give the film a chance and to see if the time travel aspect would help or hurt the rest of the movie.
Alice learns from her companions that she must seek out something called the Chronosphere, which is a device that will allow her to travel back in time. However, the Chronosphere is in the hands of Father Time, and this is when we are introduced to what is easily the best part of this film: Sascha Baron Cohen.
Sascha Baron Cohen, in my opinion, generally improves any film that he is a part of. Whether it is a minor role or a major one, Cohen always brings his A game, and it was no different in this film. Cohen’s portrayal of Father Time was outstanding, and added a much-needed spark to this film, which severely lacked in the excitement department.
Alice goes to see Father Time to try and convince him to give her the Chronosphere. Father Time denies her request and demands that she leave. This leads to our re-introduction to The Queen of Hearts. The Red Queen storms into Father Time’s fortress and also demands to use the Chronosphere, for she also has a motive for going back in time. We learn that The Red Queen’s malady goes back to when she was a child and hurt her head after running away from home following an argument with her sister and her mother. Seeing this, Alice hides out and bides her time until she finds an opportunity to steal the Chronosphere. After Alice steals the Chronoshpere, Father Time immediately becomes aware of it, since it directly affects his existence, and he gives chase after his prized possession.
Alice is eventually able to convince The Hatter that he was right and that his family is still alive. Alice and The Hatter venture forth to rescue his family, as they’ve been imprisoned by The Red Queen. Alice also learns that the Red Queen’s malady was caused by an argument with her sister and mother, which led to her running away, stumbling, and falling headfirst into a statue in the middle of the city square. Alice and The Hatter are able to rescue his family. Meanwhile, The Red Queen and The White Queen reconcile with each other over the fight they had as children.
If it feels like I rushed through that part of the plot it’s because I absolutely did. I had to, trust me. If I had gone through and described every little detail of every time Alice traveled through time and what she saw then this review would reach 10,000 words, and I don’t want to do that to you. Just believe me when I tell you that the time travel aspect of this film added about 30 minutes of unnecessary and, quite frankly, uninteresting filler time. The biggest highlight of this film really was Father Time and his antics, as well as a really funny scene where he’s having tea with The Mad Hatter, the March Hare and Mallymkun.
The film lacked in several other areas as well. The Cheshire Cat, voiced by the brilliant Stephen Fry, had perhaps 3 or 4 lines in the entire movie. The Cheshire Cat, as a character, was practically invisible in this movie, which was disappointing to say the least. As matter of fact, all Alice’s companions were kept too quiet throughout this movie. I could have done with more silly banter between Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, but no such luck.
I must give props, however, to Mia Wasikowski for helping to carry this film to the finish line. Her performance as Alice was really strong in this film and was perhaps even better than her performance in the first film. Her and Sascha Baron Cohen kept the audience engaged in a sub-par plot because of their acting and their chemistry on screen. By contrast, I was less impressed with Johnny Depp in this film. I feel as though he overacted and tried too hard this time around, which I did not feel in the first movie.
But hey, what do I know? I was just happy that my theater makes really good mojitos, because I needed about 4 of those bad boys to get me through this movie. It was not horrible, but it was also massively underwhelming.
Overall grade: C-