by Jewels Savage writer for Random Interviews
Lewis Carroll’s fairy tale “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” is comprised of two different tales “Alice in Wonderland” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass.” More times than not, when retold through adaptations, these two tales get mashed together and put out of order. For example, Disney’s animation of “Alice in Wonderland” disregards the order in which events occur and acts as if Alice experiences one journey to Wonderland, rather than two. They pull characters from “Alice Through the Looking Glass” and insert them in Alice’s journey. It is also common for Alice to be portrayed as either a teenager or an adult, rather than a little girl. In Disney’s live-action “Alice in Wonderland and “Alice Through the Looking Glass” Alice is seen as an older teenager and then, later, as an adult. This is also the case in the “Alice in the Country of [Hearts, Clover, and Joker]” graphic novels by QuinRose and Sournei Hoshino; Alice is portrayed as a teenager.
Though there have been attempts to retell the story, most adaptations of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” take the characters and main motifs to spin a somewhat original tale. “Alice in Murderland” is a horror film about a sorority party where the guests are dressed as characters from Wonderland; though it mainly focuses on the fact that one person keeps killing everyone, there are numerous references to Lewis Carroll’s story. Characters and motifs were also used in the creation of video games “American McGee’s Alice” and “Alice: Madness Returns.”
During a stage of brief obsession over Alice and her nonsensical adventures, I had unearthed several other adaptations not previously mentioned. Though it would be interesting to expand on the film “Malice in Wonderland,” this movie is rightfully rated R due to drug usage, over-sexualized situations, and further intense crime-- including gory murder-- and it is a bit difficult to draw further connections to the original fairy tale other than the naming of characters.
The adaptation that had intrigued me the most (and is now one of my favorite movies) was SyFy’s Original Movie, simply titled “Alice.” This movie is about a grown woman, obviously named Alice; she lives with her mother in a quaint apartment and is constantly in search of her father, who had disappeared when she was younger. Alice somewhat looks like the Alice described in the original fairytale, with blue eyes and a blue dress; her hair is brown, though it used to be blonde (like the original Alice) when she was younger. Alice doesn’t seem to have much going for her in retrospect. Living with her mother, her career is a karate instructor and it is hinted at by her mother that she never has any luck in the romance department. That is, until she meets Jack in one of her classes.
After dating for a while, she invites Jack over to meet her mother-- during dinner, he discovers that Alice is still searching for her dad (this becomes important later though you’ll have to watch the movie to find out why). The night ends abruptly after Jack receives a text saying “Run.” He tries to convince Alice to come home with her to meet his family and proceeds to propose to her. Alice, having commitment issues, turns him down and Jack leaves. She tells her mother what happened and discovers the ring in her pocket. From there, she proceeds to chase Jack down, finding herself in the middle of a construction site. She witnesses Jack getting beat up and then pushed into a van, which, in turn, drives off. A second later, a man in a white suit and long, white pig-tails walks out of the shadow, insisting that Alice gives him the ring. Stalling, Alice slips the ring out of its box unnoticed and the man wrestles with her for a moment before grabbing the box and taking off. Alice, determined, chases after him and runs head first into a mirror, in which she proceeds to fall into and then down.
This scene mimics “Alice in Wonderland” using the mirror from “Alice Through the Looking Glass.” This man, as you may have guessed, is named White Rabbit, such as is the rabbit that the original Alice follows into the rabbit hole leading into Wonderland, though, in this case, she falls into a mirror. Alice falls for a minute or so and she finds herself in this room with a bottle on a table; the bottle is labeled “Drink Me”, such as in the original story. Though this Alice does not drink it and instead looks through a peep-hole in the wall where she sees a bunch of people unconscious, each in a separate box (the cinematography is great throughout the movie; it adds to the nonsensical-ness Wonderland holds). Each person has a unique green mark on their skin. A wall then moves to shut Alice into a box of her own. The White Rabbit peeps through a different hole and tells her, “You shouldn’t have followed me, little oyster.”
If you have never read “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” then you have never met Tweedledee and Tweedledum: peculiar twins who like to tell stories that do not make sense. Not knowing of these twins means you are unaware of their tales, meaning you have never read nor heard about “The Walrus and The Carpenter.” Thus, you may be wondering why the White Rabbit called her an oyster. Syfy’s Alice uses this tale for the whole basis of its whole plot, but I will discuss this later.
Thus Alice is now in Wonderland. She manages to escape and finds herself in the most unusual city, where the buildings are miles high and if you enter one door, you might find yourself in a completely different level of elevation than where you started. The first person Alice encounters is Mouse, which, if knowing the original tale, foreshadows the following events. The only mouse in “Alice in Wonderland” is the one that is attending the Mad Tea Party. Talking with Mouse, she finds that money isn’t a thing in Wonderland and once he realizes who she is by seeing the green mark on her skin (she received one by being “burned” by the aircraft that was transporting her box), he takes her to see the Hatter. They end up in a tea shop-- tea is a motif that refers to the Mad Tea Party in “Alice in Wonderland.” In this tea shop, she sees people buying and trading liquified emotions. Mouse proceeds to take her to the Hatter, who happens to be very attractive and very charming. They decide to partner up to rescue Jack.
It should be noted that before they leave for their journey, the Hatter tells Alice that the Red Queen, who is the famous evil queen from the original story who likes to chop people’s heads off, kidnaps people from Earth and brings them to Wonderland for the “shiny pearls inside” them, hence “oyster”. Though Alice isn’t aware of what he really means, the audience can infer that these pearls are the liquid emotions, which the Queen uses to stay in power. If this does indeed go over the audience’s heads, a scene soon after shows a casino in which people with green marks are in this awakened unconsciousness. It shows them having reactions to winning or people dancing and thus the camera shoots down below the casino where liquid is being processed in a lab. This is where we meet Walrus and Carpenter (like the White Rabbit, Walrus is a person; I will say here that every character, despite their animal name, is a real person)
Carpenter is the mastermind in the whole scheme; he is in charge of harvesting and bottling the emotions; he is also the Queen’s main man when it comes to committing odd science projects. For example, the Mad March, who is the Mad Hare that attends the Mad Hatter’s tea party in the original story, is her assassin that she had previously had beheaded. In the movie, she has the Carpenter revive him and he does so by using a rabbit shaped cookie jar for his head and using advanced technology to bring his consciousness back. It is the Mad March who tracks down Alice; the Queen eventually realizes she still has the ring. This ring is so important to her because it is what powers the Looking Glass that allows her to kidnap people from Earth.
I would love to continue analyzing this movie and making side comparisons to its inspiration, but that would take so much time (it’s a three hour movie) and this paper would be incredibly long; also, I don’t want to reveal anything else because this is such a magnificent movie that everyone knowing “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” should watch. I will continue, though, to point out comparisons that don’t necessarily offer spoiler alerts.
Hatter is involved with the Resistance-- a group of people trying to take down the Queen. He tries to find help through Dotto. Dotto is a main character in the original tale-- after Alice had cried a “sea of tears”, Dotto leads all the animals who got wet into this weird circle of running, convincing them it will make them dry. Syfy uses this idea of Dotto’s power in the original story to make him one of the main leaders in the resistance.
While running from the Mad March, Alice and Hatter encounter the Jabberwocky- Carroll’s famous, terrifying beast. Syfy does a great job of making it look like the original, though it doesn’t necessarily play a large role in the movie. But, while running from the Jabberwocky, Alice and Hatter are saved by Charlie, a white knight (he is also in the original tale). Charlie takes them back to the White Kingdom, which no one in Wonderland still knew existed being that the Red Queen had mostly destroyed it and had all the white knights and the White Queen killed, all for the ring that controls Wonderland.
Syfy does a great job of not letting any characters go- Dina, Alice’s cat in the original, appears to Syfy’s Alice in a dream. They use Dina to also refer to the Cheshire Cat by having Dina smile at Alice with the Cheshire Cat grin. We see “the suits”, which are the Queen’s henchmen and are named after different cards because in the original, the Queen has literal card people working for her. Tweedledee and Tweedledum also work for the Red Queen-- they are weird hypnotic twins who end up torturing Alice into telling them where she hid the ring. Even Duchess and her pig baby are in the movie-- in the original story, Alice meets a Duchess who has a baby. The Duchess makes her watch the baby while she leaves, but the baby turns into a pig. Duchess in the Syfy version ends up being Jack’s betrothed and the pig is in the scene with Tweedledee and Tweedledum-- it’s in a crib in the hallucination they put Alice in, referencing that it was once a baby. The smoking caterpillar ends up being the Resistance’s leader, a hipster old man who has mushrooms that make him disappear (Alice eats the mushrooms in the original). Syfy even includes the Red Queen’s flamingos, though they are actually these weird, flying motorcycle type things that just look like flamingos. Again, I could go on and on.
This adaptation uses the characters, stories, and motifs in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” to create a somewhat horrific, science-fiction story of a woman named Alice. It does an excellent job of creating its own plot while keeping focus on the original story. Being that this movie came out in 2009, it can be said that it was intended for those that grew up with “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” whether they read the book or watched Disney’s animation of it (which was the most accurate, popular, and accessible version when I and those before were a child). Without knowing either one, this movie might be lost to those who had never been introduced to Alice. It appeals to these contemporary readers because it offers a more relatable Alice, being that she (as well as those that grew up with the story) is an adult. Though it relies heavily on the original story for the creation of its characters and plot, it offers a lot that a child wouldn’t necessarily understand without some sort of explanation. With kidnappings, beheadings, assassins, romance, etc, this version appeals to contemporary readers because it allows them to see a well-loved fairy tale all grown up.