On Not Being A Hypocrite and Hating Prequels: An ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ Review
I’m a hypocrite.
I’ve been rallying against the Ghostbusters hate, not because I think it’s going to be a good movie but because I think we should give it a chance. Any film deserves at least a chance, right? They’re making it with the best intentions and there’s no reason we should begrudge them that. But it occurs to me…I’d been doing to very same thing to another film. Disney and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland series.
When the first film came out I stayed home. It was getting decent reviews and making huge box office, but I refused to see it. Why? Because I held the source material in immensely high regard. I love the original books and although I quite enjoy the many adaptations that have been made regardless of how they reinterpreted the classic, my nose was thoroughly turned up at this one. I didn’t like the trailers and thought it was a cash in on the brand. The idea of adding new ideas like a war plotline seemed to go completely against the idea of the story. Wonderland is a world of nonsense where every character operates on their own logic, adding a cliched narrative about a ‘Chosen One’, a prophecy and war showed a complete disregard or misunderstanding of the source. It also appeared be an adaptation of the Disney animated film, not the book, with a blonde Alice and elements that appeared in that film and not the source material.
Having already gotten the gist of Alice in Wonderland from the Nostalgia Critic review, I decided to check out the sequel to alleviate my hypocritical guilt. ‘Through the Looking Glass’ doesn’t get adapted nearly as often as its more famous predecessor and it would be interesting to see what they come up with. Although some of the best known sequences, such as the talking flowers and the Tweedles, had been pulled into the first film so they might have some new material. It’s not like the first film was a total disappointment, they had some awesome design elements. Let’s sit down and watch Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Holy hell, that was awful. Just…really, really bad.
Being a fan of the stories I am deeply disappointed that they didn’t bother using the story of the book at all. Aside from the mirror and a brief look at sentient chess pieces there’s very, very little influence from the source material. Instead they’re putting their money on star power of Johnny Depp in spite of his diminishing returns. Alice, now a ship’s captain who spends her time telling everyone why they’re wrong and why she’s a special snowflake, climbs through a mirror and finds herself back in Wonderland (or ‘Underland’ that they perplexingly insist on calling it). In Wonderland she finds that everyone is worried about the Mad Hatter because he’s in a dark mood due to his family being dead. Alice decides to visit the personification of time to go back in time and save Hatter’s family. On the way she uncovers the back story of the major players in the story (or who has the biggest name actors playing the roles while everyone else just stands around).
Right off the bat this annoys me because through the time travelling malarky the movie quickly shifts into prequel territory. I hate prequels. They’re pointless cash-ins on movies that don’t open up for proper sequels or should be left well enough alone. There’s no point becoming invested in the story because you know what the outcome will be. Most eye-gougingly annoying is the forced importance on to pointless details. Nobody cares how Michael Myers got his boiler suit. They can work if they don’t tie themselves to tightly to the original, like X-Men: First Class. In the case of Alice it’s that much more worse because everything it reveals goes against the idea of Wonderland being filled with insane characters living a life of nonsense. The film-makers seem determined to take as much of this random madness out as possible. They explain why the Hatter is mad, why the Red Queen is obsessed with chopping off heads, why she hates white roses, why she has a giant head in this adaptation…it gets to the point of complete idiocy with a scene of Tweedledee and Tweedledum as children while the Cheshire Cat learning to turn invisible.
All of this is completely awful, pointless and shows an almost forced misunderstanding of what the source material represented. But the worst is yet to come.
The character arc of the Mad Hatter (the main narrative because Alice doesn’t have an arc) involves him reconnecting with his family. Apparently his father was very strict and focused on his business. Despite his father being well-meaning and the Hatter just wanting to please him they have a fall out. Hatter goes on to his own business but regrets never making amends. At the end they meet up and rebuild the bridges.
You will recognise this as the exact same terrible subplot they stuck into Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, complete with white faced Johnny Depp. It was a terrible addition then and it’s even worse here.
Then we come to Alice. She is possibly the worst hero in movie history. At the beginning of the movie she is completely intolerable, insisting that everyone she meets with is living life wrong and she has things right. She’s the worst type of hipster. Then when she gets to Wonderland, where everyone treats her like some great, perfect hero of the people. This is in spite of her, in her quest to cheer up the Hatter, intruding on Time’s realm, stealing the device that regulates time and uses it go back in time where she repeatedly makes the bad situation worse. By the time we get into the third act she is solely responsible for time breaking and completely stopping, turning everyone into rust.
Going by the marketing, Time is expected to be the villain (if you’re wondering, Time is referred to by insane people in the books but doesn’t make an appearance, so it’s unclear if he is a person). Time does not actually do anything wrong in the film – Alice breaks into his home and when he doesn’t let her use his equipment because of the MASSIVE DANGER TO TIME AND SPACE she steals it from him, causing Time himself physical harm. Alice is 100% absolutely and undoubtedly the bad guy in this story. If this was an intentional idea, in that she would have to learn the folly of her ways and redeem herself, they have massively failed because, as we said earlier, she doesn’t have a character arc. Alice doesn’t learn anything from this experience. She’s just as insufferable at the end of the movie as she is at the beginning. We’re just supposed to love how quirky and special she is.
There have been dozens of versions of the Alice stories over the years, some of them drastically different from the source material. American McGee’s Alice posits that Alice is insane and the inhabitants of Wonderland represent her twisted psyche. The Return to Wonderland comic series positions Wonderland as the result of drug induced madness. There are many books and films that put a modern or allegorical spin the story to good effect including Alice in Blunderland and Malice in Wonderland. Out of all the versions we’ve seen I can’t think of single one that misinterprets the meaning of the source material as much as this film. Disappointing doesn’t begin to describe it.
So maybe I shouldn’t have bothered watching it, considering how much it pissed me off. But I did, and I formed an opinion and feel like I can speak with some authority on the matter. I certainly couldn’t do that with Ghostbusters, and neither should anyone else who hasn’t seen it. It’s fine to discuss your expectations about a movie, but the hate thrown around about is unconscionable. Unless you have seen the movie, stop making endless videos about how much you hate it. Especially stop claiming that you’re sick of talking about it…if that was the case, you wouldn’t be posting anything, you sad act.