Alice Kingsleigh has spent the past three years following in her father's footsteps and sailing the high seas. Upon her return to London from China, she discovers that her ex-fiancé, Hamish Ascot, has taken over her father's company and plans to have Alice sell him her father's ship, "the Wonder", in exchange for her family home. Unable to make a choice, Alice runs away, and comes across her butterfly friend Absolem, who disappears through a mysterious mirror in one of the upstairs rooms, returning to Underland.
There, Alice is greeted by Mirana of Marmoreal the White Queen, Nivens McTwisp the White Rabbit, the Tweedles, Mallymkun the Dormouse, Thackery Earwicket the March Hare, Bayard, and the Cheshire Cat. They inform her that Tarrant Hightopp the Mad Hatter is in poor health because his family is missing following the Attack of the Jabberwocky. The attack occurred shortly after his father, Zanik, a hat retailer, seemed to reject Tarrant's gift of a hat creation.
The White Queen persuades Alice to convince Time himself to save the Mad Hatter's family in the past, believing her to be the only one who can save the Hatter. However, she cautions Alice about time, and that if her past self sees her future self, everything will be history. As Alice sets out, she ends up in a dreary castle, where Time himself, a demigod that is part-human, part-clock, resides. As Alice tries to consult Time, she finds the Chronosphere, an object that powers all time in Underland and will allow her to travel to any time in the past.
Alice ignores Time's warning that the past is unchangeable, and steals the Chronosphere, shortly after finding Iracebeth of Crims, the exiled Red Queen, in the care of Time. Alice accidentally flies to the day of Iracebeth's coronation, where a younger Mad Hatter mocks the Red Queen when the royal crown doesn't fit on her abnormally large head. This causes Iracebeth to melt down and her father deems her emotionally unqualified to rule and passes the title of queen to her younger sister, the White Queen.
Alice learns of an event in Iracebeth's and Mirana's past that caused friction between the two and travels back in time again, hoping it will change Iracebeth's ways and stop the Jabberwocky from killing the Hatter's family. She learns that the hat that the Mad Hatter thought his father threw away was actually treasured by him. Meanwhile, at the White Queen and the Red Queen's castle, at the time they are children, Mirana steals a tart from her mother and eats it. When confronted by their mother, Mirana lies about eating the tart, and Iracebeth is accused, causing her to run out of the castle. Alice sees that Iracebeth is about to run into a clock, thinking that's the event that deforms her head and personality. Alice prevents that collision but fails to change the past, as Iracebeth trips and slams her head into a stone wall instead.
A weakened Time then confronts Alice after relentless searching, and scolds her for putting all of time in danger. Out of panic, Alice runs into a nearby mirror back in the real world, where she wakes up in a mental hospital, diagnosed with female hysteria. As Dr. Addison Bennett, a psychiatric doctor, tries to inject her with a sedative, with her mother Helen's encouragement and help, she escapes and returns to Underland via the mirror, where she travels to Horevendush Day, when the Hightopp family was killed. Alice discovers that the Mad Hatter's family was captured by the Red Queen instead and never died. Returning to the present however, Alice discovers that the Mad Hatter is on the brink of death.
Alice, close to tears, says that she believes him, and Tarrant transforms back to his normal self. The Underlandians go to the Red Queen's new organic plant castle, where the Mad Hatter finds his family shrunk and trapped in an ant farm. However, the Red Queen apprehends them and steals the Chronosphere from Alice. Ignoring Time's warning, she takes her sister back to the day she lied about the tart. By the time the Mad Hatter and Alice get there, the Red Queen and her younger self have seen each other. Time becomes irrelevant, and Underland begins to freeze in rust. At a powerless Time's pleas, Alice and the Mad Hatter with the White Queen and now-frozen Red Queen use the Chronosphere to race back to the present as the rust proceeds to spread all over the ocean of Time and the castle, where Alice places the Chronosphere in its original place in time.
With the Chronosphere stabilized, Underland, including those frozen, are reverted to normal. The Mad Hatter reunites with his family and the White Queen and the Red Queen make amends while Time forgives Alice for the trouble she caused, but forbids her to return. Alice bids farewell to her friends and returns to the real world through another mirror. She finds her mother is about to sign over the Wonder to Hamish (saying that it's only a ship). Helen decides to support her daughter instead. Hamish gets the Kingsleigh family home but not the ship. Alice and her mother set out to travel the world together with their own shipping company.
The movie was announced via Variety in December 2012. Bobin was first approached about the project while doing post-production work on Muppets Most Wanted, Of being asked, Bobin has said that "I just couldn’t pass it up", as he has a passion for the works of Lewis Carroll as well as history in general. In July 2013, it was announced that Johnny Depp would return as the Hatter, with Mia Wasikowska's return confirmed the following November. In January 2014 Sacha Baron Cohen joined the cast to play Time. In May 2014, Rhys Ifans joined the cast to play Zanik Hightopp, the Mad Hatter's father. In developing the character of "Time", Bobin sought to avoid creating a "straight-up bad guy", noting that it would be "a bit dull", and also that the role in that universe already existed in the form of The Red Queen. Instead, Bobin sought to make Time a "Twit", further explaining that "There's no one better at playing the confident idiot trope than Sacha Baron Cohen", and adding that "it was very much with Sacha in mind".
Principal photography began on August 4, 2014, at Shepperton Studios. In August 2014, filming took place in Gloucester Docks, which included the use of at least four historic ships: Kathleen and May, Irene, Excelsior, and the Earl of Pembroke, the last of which was renamed The Wonder for filming. Principal photography ended on October 31, 2014.
The film’s score was composed by Danny Elfman. The soundtrack was released on May 27, 2016, by Walt Disney Records. Pink recorded the song "Just Like Fire" for the film, and also covered Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit", only used in the film's promotional material.
All music composed by Danny Elfman.
Alice Through the Looking Glass premiered in London on May 10, 2016, and was theatrically released on May 27, 2016, in the United States by Walt Disney Pictures.
Alice Through the Looking Glass was released on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download on October 18, 2016, by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. It debuted at No. 2 in the Blu-ray Disc sales charts.
Alice Through the Looking Glass grossed $77 million in the United States and Canada and $222.4 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $299.5 million, against a budget of $170 million. Due to its underperformance at the box office, The Hollywood Reporter noted that the financial losses for Disney would be around $65 million based on theatrical returns only.
Alice Through the Looking Glass opened in the United States and Canada on May 27, 2016, alongside X-Men: Apocalypse, and was initially projected to gross $55–60 million from 3,763 theaters over its four-day Memorial Day opening weekend, but projections were continuously revised downwards due to poor word of mouth. It had the added benefit of playing in over 3,100 3D theaters, 380 IMAX screens, 77 premium large formats and 79 D-box locations. It made $1.5 million from Thursday previews (to the first film's $3.9 million) and just $9.7 million on its first day, compared to the $41 million opening Friday of its predecessor. Through its opening weekend, it earned $27 million, which when compared to its predecessor's $116 million opening is down 70%. While 3D represented 71% ($82 million) of the original film's opening gross, 3D constituted only 41% ($11 million) for this sequel, with 29% coming from traditional 3D shows, 11% from IMAX, and 1% from premium large formats. It became the studio's third Memorial Day opening flop following Tomorrowland in 2015 and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time in 2010. During its first week, the film grossed $40.1 million. In its second weekend, the film grossed $11.3 million (a 55.1% drop), finishing 4th at the box office.
The film was released across 43 countries (72% of its total market place) the same weekend as the US, and was estimated to gross $80–100 million in its opening weekend. It faced competition from Warcraft and X-Men: Apocalypse. It ended up grossing $62.7 million, which is well below the projections of which $4.1 million came from IMAX shows. It had an opening weekend gross in Mexico ($4.5 million), Brazil ($4.1 million), and Russia ($3.9 million). In the United Kingdom and Ireland, it had an unsuccessful opening by grossing just £2.23 million ($3.1 million) during its opening weekend, a mere 21% of the first film's £10.56 million ($15.2 million) opening from 603 theaters. It debuted in second place behind X-Men: Apocalypse which was on its second weekend of play. In China, it had an opening day of an estimated $7.3 million and went on to score the second biggest Disney live-action (non-Marvel or Lucasfilm) opening ever with $26.6 million, behind only The Jungle Book. However, this was down from its $35–45 million projections. It debuted at the No. 1 spot among newly released film in Japan with $5.2 million and $4.1 million on Saturday and Sunday. By comparison, the first film opened with $14 million on its way to a $133.6 million a total.
On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 30% based on 225 reviews with an average rating of 4.6/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Alice Through the Looking Glass is just as visually impressive as its predecessor, but that isn't enough to cover for an underwhelming story that fails to live up to its classic characters." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 34 out of 100 based on 42 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale, the same grade earned by its predecessor.
Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote in his review, "What does all this have to do with Lewis Carroll? Hardly anything" and that overall, "It's just an excuse on which to hang two trite overbearing fables and one amusing one". Ty Burr of The Boston Globe gave the movie 1.5 out of 4 stars and called the film, "gaudy, loud, complacent, and vulgar." Stephen Whitty of New York Daily News called the film "hugely expensive and extravagantly stupid" and that, overall, the movie "is just one more silly Hollywood mashup, an innocent fantasy morphed into a noisy would-be blockbuster".
Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com was deeply critical and gave it zero stars. He described Through the Looking Glass as "the most offensive kind of film...one that spends an enormous amount of money yet seems to have nothing on its mind but money. You give it, they take it. And you get nothing in return but assurances that you're seeing magic and wonder. The movie keeps repeating it in your ear, and flashing it onscreen in big block letters: MAGIC AND WONDER. MAGIC AND WONDER. But there is no magic, no wonder, just junk rehashed from a movie that was itself a rehash of Lewis Carroll, tricked out with physically unpersuasive characters and landscapes and 'action scenes', with blockbuster 'journey movie' tropes affixed to every set-piece as blatantly as Post-It Notes."
Kyle Smith of New York Post gave the film a positive review: "The screenplay (by Linda Woolverton) isn't exactly heaving with brilliant ideas, but it works well enough as a blank canvas against which the special-effects team goes bonkers". Matthew Lickona of San Diego Reader said that while he found the visual effects to be "stupidly expensive" and the story familiar, he called it, "a solid kids’ movie in the old style".