Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is an intelligent and beautiful young English woman, sometime in the Victorian Era, who is being taken for a horse and carriage ride by her overbearing mother to an engagement party in the country — her own. It seems one of the local lords wishes to ask for her hand in marriage, at his baronial estate, in the company of his family and his friends in the nobility. But none of this impresses Alice, who, we learn quickly, thinks for herself. (“Why should I wear a corset because everyone else does? If everyone else wore a fish on their head, would I be expected to do that, also?”) But her distraught Mother sees this pre-arranged betrothal as an opportunity for her daughter’s social advancement (not to mention her own). Alas, the nobility may indeed be manor-born, but that doesn’t make them appealing. Alice finds herself shuddering at the prospect at being married to this smarmy, pompous, sniveling, unimaginative aristocrat. She senses a stifling of her creativity in her future, and a betrayal of her own blithe spirit. She literally runs away, and falls down the rabbit hole into a Wonderland that she should have remembered, when she visited as a small girl, but doesn’t. And everyone there has to decide if she’s the right Alice, while she plays along with the strange characters and their portentous drama, assuring herself that it’s all a dream.
Johnny Depp plays a great Mad Hatter, as we would expect. Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway add much as the Red Queen and the White Queen. Throw in the voices of Alan Rickman (The Blue Caterpillar), Stephen Fry (The Cheshire Cat), and Michael Sheen (The White Rabbit), and you have a subterranean, subconscious odyssey well worth the ride. Of course it’s fanciful. But there’s a point to it all. In the course of her adventures, Alice makes a resolution about her above-ground life, including the unwanted marriage proposal. She remembers something about herself now — that she shares her late father’s sense of adventure, and isn’t afraid of trying and failing. What she would dread more is not “thinking outside the box” at all.
“Alice In Wonderland” is a great little ride outside the box. Enjoy it for what it is, don’t try to read too much into it (like potential political symbolism of the characters, both in Victorian England and today?), and don’t think too much about the original impetus of the author (Lewis Carroll was a pseudonym for a math professor at an obscure little college who took an unhealthy interest in the president’s little daughter, and wrote the two “Alice” books as an ode to her maiden loveliness?). Instead, just put on the 3-D glasses, sit back, and marvel at how the screen can bring imagination to life, appearing right before your wondering eyes.
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church, Greenville, Texas.