It’s been 145 years since Lewis Carroll released Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, a novel that picked up six months after Alice in Wonderland left off, but to hear Suzanne Todd discuss it, there’s nothing dated about the story at all. That’s likely because the version she’s talking about is the eye-popping new Disney film Alice Through the Looking Glass, which boasts impressive effects and an all-star cast and, if it is indeed more than a century old, feels very well preserved.
And it’s no wonder she’s excited. Todd is a film and television producer whose projects have reportedly earned more than $2 billion worldwide, and Alice is her latest big-deal project to hit the silver screen. And it’s not her first time at the Mad Hatter’s table.
“My friend [the writer] Linda Woolverton and I, we had tried to make a bunch of different movies together over the years, and it was her idea—she wanted to do Alice” Todd explains from Los Angeles, on a brief at-home layover before domestic and international trips for the film. “It started as a smaller idea, like let’s do a female empowerment movie… and it all kind of grew from there. It grew into a big, giant thing.”
Of course, anyone familiar with Carroll’s topsy-turvy world is familiar with things that change size and shape and are generally entirely unpredictable. The original Alice film, helmed by Tim Burton, took a familiar story and reinvented it to the tune of three Academy Award nominations and more than $1 billion worldwide. It’s no surprise that a sequel was made, but true to Alice form, Todd says that Looking Glass—directed by James Bobin—came with plenty of surprises of its own.
“Every film comes with its own set of challenges,” Todd says. “I don’t know if it gets easier—we’re so happy that so many people saw the first movie and responded to it, but then there’s obviously an expectation to deliver—but with this second film we can try to do something unique and interesting. We didn’t want to make a second movie just for the sake of making a sequel, which is why we worked for so long on the script, that’s why there have been years in between the two movies.”
The time was well spent. In the new film, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) happens upon a mirror that brings her back to Wonderland, which has become a darker place since her last visit. The Mad Hatter is obsessed with the fate of his family, missing since he was a boy, and it’s up to Alice to travel through time to discover what happened to them and to save the world from what could be certain tragedy. Her adventures find her stealing from Time himself (a very funny Sacha Baron Cohen) and piecing together decades-old clues to heal her friend’s broken heart.
Indeed, in addition to taking on a new director, the film differs from its predecessor by taking a somewhat lighter approach to its subject matter—which might be fantasy, but Todd notes is done, “in a female-empowerment kind of way, that’s interesting and rare for a summer movie.” The sequel also takes its titular heroine on a journey through time, allowing an audience to see some beloved characters—Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen—at heretofore unobserved points in time.
“We liked seeing the origin stories of some of the characters and we liked the idea of getting to see the characters at different ages—that seemed like a lot of fun for us and hopefully for a lot of people who love the characters,” Todd notes, adding that the film’s ambitious effects were like another set of characters. “In these movies, when you’re still creating not only environments and layouts and characters, but when you’re still creating so many things in post production, it’s really like having 50 percent of the pieces of the jigsaw and then trying to create other ones that will fit well as you go. It’s very, very difficult and time consuming.”
It’s also incredible rewarding. Beyond the first film’s award nominations and massive payday, there’s something special for Todd—who’s also behind this summer’s Bad Moms—about working on a series where “girl will be the one who wears the armor and has the sword and slays the Jabberwocky,” she says, noting how different that can be from the plot of your average summer blockbuster. Indeed, there are plenty of reasons that, when pressed about the next move for Team Alice, Todd didn’t miss a beat.
“I’d like to see Alice’s new adventures, her place in life and what she’s doing,” she says. “I think it would be so cool if we could keep going.”