The film Alice in Wonderland (2010), directed by Tim Burton and produced by Walt Disney, is one of the most nonsensical and bizarre children’s movies of all time. Inspired by dream cliché within two of Lewis Carroll’s novels, the film uses the cliché of the unknown identity. This cliché refers to when Alice enters Wonderland and the Red Queen wants to find her in order to stop her from stealing the throne. This blog post will explain the most prominent message of the film, while also revealing more about the underlying messages within the film that provide an implied thesis.
The idea of Wonderland resembles of the biggest movie clichés of all time, which is the dream world. Another famous example of the dream cliché is in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy wakes up and is told by her family that she was just having a dream. In Wonderland, Alice meets a series of wacky characters that create a series of incongruent events. Nothing makes sense in this world, including the distortion of time, talking animals, and the element of magic. The dream idea allows movies to become nonsensical, wild, and creative. The intended audience for Alice in Wonderland is mature children between the ages of 9 and 15. The main cliché message of Alice in Wonderland is to “live life on ones own terms and not let someone else tell you what to do.” I believe the dream element of the movie helps support this message because dreams are a state of mind where a child can go and not have to follow any rules. Anything goes and they can be anything they want to be.
There are also many problematic messages that are presented within the film; many of these messages can be found in the rose garden scene when Alice encounters the Red Queen. The first problematic message is the negative attitude towards bigger body types. Right before the Red Queen first meets Alice, who introduces herself as “Um from Umbridge,” the shrunken girl eats a piece of the White Rabbit’s cake in order to make herself grow back to her normal size. The White Rabbit tells Alice to stop taking so many bites and not to eat too much of it. Nevertheless, it is too late and Alice grows as tall as the trees. The Red Queen refers to the larger Alice as an “enormous girl.” Alice also tells the queen that she is naked because she outgrew her clothes and that people in Umbridge laugh at her. I believe this sends a negative message to children about larger body types. The message is subtle; however, Alice’s humiliated and sad facial expressions create an emotional connection through pathos. In the book Everything’s an Argument, by Andrea Lunsford, pathos is described as a strong appeal that can create an emotional tie to an audience (52).
Another subliminal message within the rose garden scene is the religious tone. When Alice grows after eating the rabbit’s cake, she grows out of her clothes and is naked. The only thing that covers Alice’s naked body is a bush full of red roses. The naked girl in a garden symbolizes the religious story of Adam and Eve, which teaches the lesson of the “forbidden fruit,” the original sin. During this scene, Alice is being ridiculed and lies about her identity. I believe that this could create a negative image of religion in the minds of children.
The last hidden message within this scene of Alice in Wonderland is the sexual tone created by the red color of the roses that hide Alice’s naked body. According to Louis Giannetti in his book Understanding Movies, “color tends to be a subconscious element in film” (22). He further explains that the color red, in particular, is often linked with sex (23). I believe that there are several sexual elements within Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland. In the rose garden scene, The Red Queen accepts Alice even though she is a naked stranger.
I give the film 2 stars because I believe that many of the undertones and subplots within the film provide subliminal messages that are not suitable for children. These include elements of sexuality, negative body images, and religious overtones. I do agree, however, with the main message of the film that tells children they should think for themselves and be who they want to be. Unfortunately, the way the message is told seems to create negative intentions within the film.