Duncan Swan reviews Alice Through the Looking Glass, claiming that the film’s logical narrative ‘destroyed the nonsensical world that made Lewis Carroll’s original work so special’.


Most people I have asked to go see Alice Through the Looking Glass with me have declined on the basis that Alice in Wonderland was disappointing. Luckily I managed to convince a new date to go with me on a sunny, warm, rare Glaswegian afternoon (it went very well, thank you for asking) and braced myself for what I hoped would be a fantastic sequel to a movie I liked, at least.

The first thing I would say is that the movie was impressive. It was visually stunning, maintaining the now-iconic scenery from the first film, and more intricate, memorable costumes. It was musically beautiful, what else would you expect from Danny Elfman? And it was, of course, star studded, with numerous members of the original cast and a few new additions. The performances of the actors were not universally astounding, but they were solid and believable.

I was pleasantly surprised at the characterisation of Time (Sacha Baron Cohen). To me, the trailers for the movie portrayed him as a predictably stock villain and while, yes, there was an amount of farce within his character, there was a certain unexpected depth to him as well. The progression of Mrs Kingsley, Alice’s Mother (Lindsay Duncan) was the most interesting, and sadly, least prominent, plotline in the movie. I would have been quite happy to watch an entire film about Alice (Mia Wasikowska) and her mother coping with real life outside of Wonderland.

What let Through the Looking Glass down was, quite simply, the plot. It was a classic time travel affair that just did not need to happen and required quite a lot of exposition to explain and fulfill. The wonder of Wonderland to me has always been that it makes no sense. To steal from Terry Pratchett, “Things just happen. What the hell”. We accept that the Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham Carter) has an abnormally large head, just like we accept when we first meet the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) that it is always tea time. The problem with this movie is that it tried to apply logic to these. It provided us with a backstory in an attempt to give characters motivations for their actions, but in doing so destroyed the nonsensical world that made Lewis Carroll’s original work so special, and destroyed the innate logic of the characters themselves.

This will inevitably be a problem with any production of Alice in Wonderland, as any dramatic adaptation (for mass consumption, mind) demands a narrative that is somewhat logical, where characters have reasons for what they do. This holds my theory for why there is yet to be a decent musical version of a work with so much innate musicality.

Somewhere along the line, the magic of Wonderland was lost in an attempt to make sense of a nonsensical world. But I had a nice time on my date, as I said.


Duncan Swan