Movie review: Alice Through the Looking Glass

It was with relatively low expectations that I headed to the cinema to see Tim Burton’s Alice Through the Looking Glass.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of Tim Burton.  But lately I’ve turned a bit sour towards him.

Why is that you ask?  Well, I just haven’t been impressed with his last few film offerings.  I feel as though his ideas have become kind of watered down, and that he relies too heavily on well-established stories and fandoms to pad out his creative exploits.  The last few Burton films have been remakes or re-imaginings of other people’s stories, and the results have been mixed.  Although I enjoyed his version of Alice in Wonderland, I was a bit iffy about the re-working of the original tale, mashing together elements from the two Alice books to create a sequel-of-sorts to the classic Wonderland tale we’re all familiar with.  And so when I hear about the making of Through the Looking Glass, which would in effect be a sequel to Burton’s sequel, I was unsure how good it would be.

And it would seem as though I was right to be wary.  I think it’s pretty strange to make a movie based on a book which has only the barest resemblence to the original story.  The only similarities seem to be the presence of Alice, a brief appearance of the chess-people and Humpty Dumpty, and the Wonderland setting.  That’s about it.  The Hatter, The Hare, The Queen of Hearts and The Caterpillar don’t even feature in the original Through the Looking Glass story.  And yet they’re all here, acting as the centrepieces in Burton’s retelling.  I just feel as though Burton is cashing in on the popularity and fame of the Through the Looking Glass tale, and using the title to draw people in before telling a wildly different story.

And the story that’s told is, let’s face it, pretty muddy.  Every step of the tale is potholed with Burton’s incessant need to give every character and every detail a back story.  The beauty of Lewis’ Carol’s original story is that it is pure, delicious nonsense.  It doesn’t matter why the Hatter is mad, he just is.  There is no need to go into the rivalry between the Red and White Queens, or the reason why the Red Queen hates white roses, or why her head it so hopelessly swollen.  And yet Burton just can’t resist the temptation to laboriously spell out the origin of every character.  It put me in mind of the unneccessary backstory that he worked for Willy Wonka.  There’s no need to understand why Willy Wonka likes chocolate.  As Charlie Bucket says “Candy doesn’t have to have a point, that’s why it’s candy”.

But in between the constant backwards-gazing and the unrecognisable plot, there are the makings of a truly beautiful fairy tale.  I fell in love with the character of Time, portrayed fantastically by Sacha Baron Cohen.  His castle, his wordiness, his man bun and his dark sense of humour all mingled to create a truly fascinating and new character.  The tale of a girl stealing Time’s essence and using it to try to fix the mistakes of the past is a gorgeous idea.  And I feel as though that’s the story that should have been told.  It made me wish that Burton had left Alice and Wonderland far behind, instead opting to create a brand new story.

Because the thing is, I truly believe that Tim Burton is at his best when he’s working on his own ideas.  His original films: Edward Scissorhands, Corpse Bride and Beetlejuice (to name a few) are some of his most splendid works.  He is a clever man with a huge imagination, and I wish that he’d put that imagination to work making something brand new, rather than trying to Burton-ify another existing tale.

I wasn’t really disappointed with Alice Through the Looking Glass, because my expectations were pretty low to begin with.  But the film did make me long for a time when Tim Burton will once again put his mind to making something original and clever.  And I hope those days will come again.

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