Dateworthy? – “Alice Through the Looking Glass”

When Tim Burton brought Lewis Carroll’s classic tale “Alice in Wonderland” to life on the big screen in 2010, he captured lightning in a bottle. Through a combination of lavish effects and costumes that wound up winning Oscars, a star-studded cast having fun playing their iconic roles, and most of all, the giddy weirdness of Johnny Depp in the role of the Mad Hatter, Burton managed to have the biggest hit of his lengthy career, as the movie became a billion-dollar-grossing smash worldwide.
That “Alice” also had the benefit of being the first big 3D movie to come out after the groundbreaking artistic triumph of “Avatar”, and no doubt a great part of its success came from riding that then-fresh artistic wave. But one big problem with the movie was that, despite it being spectacular eye candy, Carroll’s odd tale often was a confusing mess narratively when translated to theaters.

This weekend, Disney’s releasing the inevitable sequel “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” and while it’s now directed by James Bobin (who directed the first of the two recent “Muppets” movies) rather than Burton, it’s still eye-popping to watch and thankfully makes more sense now that we’ve settled into knowing the characters.
This time, it also has a couple of good messages that come through clearly, about forgiveness and making the most of our time in life. On the other hand, many members of its large cast – particularly Anne Hathaway as the White Queen – have almost nothing to do, creating an imbalance that is noticeable enough to be a distraction at times.

Is it Dateworthy? Well, it’s clean and occasionally fun, but there are more entertaining films out there, ranging from blockbusters like “Captain America: Civil War” to the indie comedy “Maggie’s Plan,” which is in the midst of a slow rollout that will hit most of the country’s theatres through the month of June. It all comes down to how much you love seeing Johnny Depp play a makeup-laden weirdo again.

The movie starts off with a bang as Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now the captain of a giant merchant ship caught in a vicious storm and shot at by other ships. She bursts into action to save the day in a series of impressive stunts, only to find that her efforts are unappreciated when she arrives back onshore and meets her employer, a man whose marriage proposal she had declined in the past.

Denied the chance to take her ship out on another voyage despite her success, Alice storms off and enters a room with a looking glass that seems to be a bit strange – when she touches it, her arm passes straight through. With her employer and his henchmen banging on the door of the room, angrily demanding to know what she’s doing, she jumps through the looking glass and finds herself in her beloved Underland.

While most of the characters from the first movie are delighted to see her, Alice learns that her best friend the Mad Hatter has locked himself away in his house to mourn the tragic loss of his family as a child. In order to break him out of his horrible depression and bring his attendant joy back to Underland, Alice decides to go back in time and change the course of events that both led to his family’s deaths and which also turned the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) into her embittered, furious self.

With Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) -the figure in charge of keeping the past, present and future in proper order – and his forces out to stop Alice from breaking through time frames, the challenging quest is on. The result is a movie that is likely more engaging for children than for adults, due to it’s at times simplistic plot, but is nonetheless an impressive lush experience that is unlike anything else in theatres right now.

Depp, as always, is fun to watch as he recreates this latest in a string of eccentric roles, but brings extra depth to his role due to the sadness he’s experiencing. Carter steals the show, however, as the Red Queen, not only being funny and slightly menacing with her anger, but also touching as she comes to terms with her past and learns the value of forgiveness.

With the Memorial Day weekend upon us, thankfully there are plenty of good options available for families and anyone wanting good clean entertainment. While I had to take note last week at the filthy “Neighbors 2” and the definitely adult but entertaining “The Nice Guys,” there are thankfully four good-to-great movies to choose from at the multiplex right now: “Alice,” “Captain America: Civil War” (which is violent but completely clean on the sexual level), and the absolutely superb “Jungle Book” and “Zootopia.”

These all come from Disney, and they deserve extra kudos for making clean fun paramount to their mission and for executing these films at a very high level of artistry and entertainment.