Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (1951) doesn’t really offer that much of a chance to really dissect Disney because it’s really a nonsense tale designed only to entertain and enchant. I mean, it makes no sense. It’s meant to be that way. Alice just wanders from one adventure to the next.
Alice is Pressured to Conform
First of all, Alice has been convinced that her entirely real adventure in Wonderland was really nothing more than a dream. That’s fine – except she keeps having nightmares about it. Then at age 19, she is encouraged to marry some twat of a Duke (I don’t want to talk about the way he looks because that is SO superficial, but he reminds me of a rabbit) just so she doesn’t end up a spinster. She’s only 19, but that’s ‘getting on’ in the 1800s. Seriously. Alice’s sister thinks she is happily married but he husband dallies around with other girls. And there is so much pressure on Alice to conform, and only wants to rebel because she despises being told what is ‘proper’. She’s my kind of girl through and through.
Alice Re-Discovers Her Own Potential
After she runs away from the high-pressure proposal, she falls back into the rabbit hole and goes through the exact same motions she did before, growing and shrinking and so on until she make it out the door. There, her friends from her last adventure debate on whether or not she is the ‘right’ Alice. They come to the conclusion that she is not. She is not the Alice who is prophesised to save the day. And the reason she is not the ‘right’ Alice is because everyone in her world convinced her that Wonderland was only a dream. She is so busy following the paths of other people that she forgets herself.
Alice the Woman Warrior Saves The Day
After a few more adventures – which, luckily, actually HAVE a plot this time around – she eventually realises who she is, and that the path before her lies in her own choice. She can help the White Queen, or she can step back and allow Underland to fall to the tyranny of the Bloody Big Head. As I was watching, I realised that Alice rebels against every expectations made of her – except this very important one. She take sup her task, because she is simply a modern warrior woman stuck in 1800s proprietary. It’s my favourite moment to see her revealed in her silver armour. There is no question about whether she can or can’t succeed – it’s written on the magical calendar, see. She’s a great version of a feminist: strong, brave, clever, loyal. She bests every beast she comes across, whether violently or by making peace.
Alice Makes Her Own Path
When Alice comes out of Underland, she’s realised that she already knows her own path. It simply took a second adventure to remind her of everything. So she refuses the proposal and threatens her sister’s philandering husband. The one thing I really don’t like about this film is how so much pressure was put on Alice NOT to become like ‘poor old aunt Imogen,’ and then Alice comes out and out and tells Imogen that she’s crazy waiting for someone who will never come. Where’s the White Queen’s compassion – hasn’t it rubbed on on her? it seems a particularly cruel thing to do, especially as most of Alice’s life people told her Underland was a figment of her imagination. I would have liked it a lot more if Alice had encouraged Imogen to pursue her dreams. As it is, Alice proposes a big fat contradiction that refuses the entire message of the film: follow your dreams, no matter how mad they seem. Like, WTF? Burton, did you miss something?
Alice follows her mad dreams. She sets off on a real-life adventure, working with her father’s business partner to expand his trading empire. Her adventures in Underland helped her realise what she has always suspected: people are trying to put her in her place. She makes her own place, and a quite successful one at that. It’s the perfect ending to the story.