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May 31, 2012

                Although many of the same thematic interests are addressed in Lewis Carroll’s stories about Alice and Tim Burton’s Film adaptation, the varying degrees to which the respective stories examine these themes is indicative of the different thematic and artistic approaches taken by author and artist.  While there is certainly a feminist commentary to be found in the books, it is not the primary theme explored in the books as it is in Burton’s films. Instead, Carroll’s works put more emphasis on the value of being critical of conventional logic, as demonstrated by the many word and logic games, which at first appear to be nonsense, but ultimately are of great value and service to Alice, and by extension the reader, during their adventures.  Similarly, there is a scene in the books in which Alice is travelling through a wood in which none of the creatures have names.  There, she meets and befriends a faun, though once the pair leave the forest and become aware of what each other is, the deer is frightened away at the sight of a human.  The conventional logic is that humans and deer must exist in a predator-prey relationship, if it were to be ignored, a friendship could be forged, but when ignored it is lost. 

                Burton’s movie does not abandon this concept entirely, as the notion of considering impossible tasks as possibilities, or bucking conventional logic, is repeated throughout the film.  However, in most instances when this theme is broached in the film its primary purpose is to support the feminist themes in the movie.  This is particularly reinforced by the framing of the story, which almost reduces Alice’s adventure to being synonymous with mustering the courage to reject a noble marriage and set out to make her own living in business. At the beginning of the movie, conventional logic, as presented through the admonishments of her sister, the female Tweedles and her prospective mother-in-law at the engagement party, tells her that her only options are to accept a marriage she does not want, or runaway and become a recluse like her aunt.  At the end, even if it is her harkening on all of the impossible, illogical people and things in Wonderland that allows her the courage needed to slay the Jabberwock, she is ultimately faced with the same feminist crisis, and it is her overcoming of this crisis that affirms her identity.

                This thematic divergence between the two works also provides insight into some of the choices Burton made when adapting Carroll’s book to film.  The framing of the story has already been addressed and this takes on further significance when considering that if Alice was still just a child, as she is in Carroll’s books, it would be much more difficult to grapple with the feminist issues that Burton chooses to address.  While Carroll’s books are noted for their rich, playful and at times confusing language, and this language is useful in extending him examination on logic versus madness, Burton’s screen adaptation instead relies on extravagant visuals to convey this to the audience.  Carroll’s books are full of lush forests and various creatures, whereas the Wonderland in Burton’s story, given the frame, has been largely decimated by the Red Queen’s tyranny.   This artistic choice in his adaptation demonstrates another theme that Burton emphasizes much more than Carroll, which is the struggle between good and evil, with Alice playing the heroine meant to reconcile the conflict.


This blog by Al Kratina focuses on some of the differences that highlight Burton’s adaptation of Carroll’s works.  It emphasizes that this is more a sequel to the first and second stories by Carroll and should not be treated as a true adaption.  Also touches on the allusions to drug use implied by the many potions that shrink and grow Alice, as well as the psychedelic environs produced by Burton.


Article focused on the occult symbols used in the movie and the themes that they advanced.  Largely suggests the idea of a final battle between good and evil.  It also touches on the theme of destiny and it how it seems to be disproved by Alice’s breaking from the scroll and her encounters with Absalom.


This blog article, titled “Can Male Hatters be feminists?: Reflections on Alice in Wonderland”

 by kwilder had some very interesting takes on the role of feminism in Burton’s depiction.  It addresses some of the primary points that are being misunderstood by other reviewers about the role of feminism in the film. First, the simple fact that Alice is the heroine does not mean that this film passes the “feminist litmus test.”  Instead it insists that“Feminism is a movement to end sexist oppression…Feminist liberation is linked to a vision of social change which challenged class elitism.”  Thus, she suggests searching further than Alice’s character for signs of feminism in the film.  In doing so, she suggests that “in order to have a feminist society, men will have to act differently than they do in a patriarchal society.”  She says that characters other than Alice demonstrate these traits, as well.  In fact, according to the article, the Hatter may be considered the most feminist character in the film, not only because of his love and support for Alice, but more subtly because his disdain for the red queen has nothing to do with her gender, but is instead a reflection of her personality.


                Burton’s emphasis on exploring the trope of good versus evil seems largely predicated on his medium.  While the playful linguistics and elaborate environments described by Carroll are easily enjoyed by a reader of a book, they are harder to follow in a movie, where dialogue is spoken and scenes are seen, not imagined.  Moreover, American moviegoers have an expectation of seeing a defined plot with a beginning and an end.  This could not be offered by a mere iteration of Carroll’s books, so it seems a reasonable choice to have adapted the familiar characters and quirks of Wonderland, while framing them within the story of a good queen oppressed by a bad queen and the feminist heroine that triumphs for good in the face of evil.  It may be more trite than Carroll envisions his twisted tale, but its box office success points to Burton’s understanding of moviegoers and their expectations.


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One Comment
  1. Greg, your analysis is good but it would be better if you analyzed the book, the film, and the adaptation separately. Your first three paragraphs sort of blend together and you get repetitive. Online research links are decent but you should avoid reviews. Try YouTube or social networking. Your critical analysis argument paragraph is well-argued but your point that Burton’s film has a simplistic good-vs-evil structure because the book can’t be truly adapted needs more support. There have been many adaptations of Alice in Wonderland and many of them were more complex than Burton’s version. In other words a dumbed-down version, like Burton’s, is not necessarily the only way to go. Hollywood doesn’t completely define the medium, and Alice can be adapted in ways that are faithful and creative. 9/10. Joseph Byrne

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