The original version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is a well-known fairy tale for describing a fantasy world populated by peculiar creatures. A girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole connected to a fantasy world described as Wonderland. The newly released movie Alice in Wonderland in 2010 by the director Tim Burton portrays a nineteen-year-old Alice who, 13 years after her previous visit, returns for the first time as a young girl. Tim Burton has a recognizable and distinctive style and thematic content which turn his work into an oeuvre and themselves into auteur which means that Tim Burton slightly changed the original Alice to his style of Alice by adding some different story in the movie. Burton is one such filmmaker, a director who has earned the status of auteur. By portraying grown up Alice, Tim Burton addresses some of both dark and bright sides of the adults’ society in a stealthy way described as Underland in the movie with visual elements under the predominant perspective in the shape of fairy tale. In other words, there are hidden sides of Alice in Wonderland such as the use of drugs, gender roles and social hierarchy buried under the fairy tale. This paper analyzes how Tim Burton expresses visual elements to imply hidden meanings of the dark and problematic side and some of the bright side of the adults’ real society.
The movie Alice in Wonderland, released in 2010, brought freshness to the storyline and came out with even deeper meanings implied visually keeping the classic story of Alice in Wonderland by the director Tim Burton. The film adapts many elements besides Carroll’s book, rendering it digressive and derivative in the storyline. The movie should not be considered only as a fairy tale for children. Because of the director’s style and narrative choices, the movie contains more actual emotional connection by using high quality techniques such as camera movements, colors, angles and lightings. The movie remains a fairy tale but under the surface of the story, it also contains deep psychological structures expressed by the director Tim Burton’s style of visual elements such as graphics, camera movements, the contrast between light and shade, and textures in the frames having some deeper messages such as the use of drugs or the dictatorship according to the social class. These visual elements allow the director to represent some hope for the future real society and some of the corrupted adults’ world hidden under the innocence of a fairy tale.
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I have naturally thought that no matter what is shown on the movie screen, Alice in Wonderland should always be for innocent children with full of imagination. However, the movie Alice in Wonderland by Tim Burton should be regarded as a story of illustrating some parts of corrupted society with the aesthetic visuals shown on the screen. Cleaver and Erdman, who wrote Changing Images Of Alice, reported that analysis of images of Alice found that although the character of Alice was presented differently through time, there were no major changes to the story (Screen 12). The reason is because there had been no remarkable changes in the story of Alice in Wonderland other than Tim Burton’s version of it. Tim Burton
tried adapting some new point of views by illustrating Alice as a nineteen-year-old girl which implies that she is going to be an adult and enter the adults’ society soon so that Tim Burton can address deeper messages into the movie with his own style. Daniel Sieden who is engaged in education scholar said that Tim Burton explained the goal of the movie Alice in Wonderland is to try to make it an engaging movie with real emotional connection that he had never felt in other Alice stories (Examiner). The reason why Tim Burton made the film is because to make the original Alice in Wonderland even unique with his own story line making it as Alice’s second trip to Wonderland which is changed to Underland for grown up Alice. Tim Burton sets up the situation that she does not remember ever being there in the past. Alice mistakenly called Wonderland to Underland in the movie so it is called Underland through the movie which I think was great transition word from Wonderland which implies more children’s world with full of curious to Underland which more implies adults’ dark side of the real world. By setting Alice not remembering visiting Wonderland, Tim Burton connects emotional attachment of being in real Underland reflecting the real world in his style. Moreover, according to Niemiec, author of A Wonderland Journey Through Positive Psychology Interventions, said that though it is a continuation of the classic story in many respects, it is also a unique tale in its own right. Alice is now a 19-year-old, in the movie and she must decide whether she wants to accept the marriage proposal of Hamish, the son of a lord. As she wanders away from the engagement party to reflect on the proposal, her curiosity leads her down the rabbit hole into Wonderland which was referred as Underland in the film. Alice’s emergence as a heroine is not only about helping others but also about identity, autonomy, competence, and self-development. Burton’s version is superior in creativity and
depth, as well as more resonant with the themes of positive psychology (2). As Niemiec mentions, Tim Burton described well in fantasy way by setting up Alice as a grown up woman. Tim Burton added a chain of a connection between teenagers turning to adults and entering the real grown-up world.
Tim Burton pursues his own style of Alice in Wonderland not only with the story of it but also astonishing visual elements generated based on the computer-animated skills. He uses a variety of formal structures such as camera movements, angles, lighting styles, colors, shot framings and visual transitions in each scene in his movie. These various uses of the techniques support discovering some hidden meanings such as the use of drugs, gender roles, and social hierarchy under the surface of the storyline. Throughout the whole movie, there are hundreds of scenes that represent the adults’ society such as the use of drugs, gender roles and social hierarchy. There are some brief examples showing the use of drugs, gender roles and social hierarchy. Simply, smoking Caterpillar is one of the scenes that shows the use of drugs. For the gender role,
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First of all, the genre of Alice in Wonderland by Tim Burton is an adventurous fantasy. Therefore, there were a lot of scenes that can never happen in the real world even if the movie actually reflects the real world. Thus, there were a lot of scenes that can be interpreted to the use of drugs. When I decided to criticize Alice in Wonderland in my own argument, I personally thought that the film has some sort of allegory for a drug trip which I had never thought of when I read the original Alice in Wonderland in a book when I was a child. It was hard to not see all of the use of drugs once I realized they are in the movie expressed well by visual elements. According to the Unreality Magazine, actually many
scenes can be interpreted as the uses of the drugs in Alice in Wonderland such as cocaine, nitros oxide, LSD, crystal meth, marijuana and some more. Almost every scene implied some popular drugs that are big problems in the real world. The way of drawing each scene with the various uses of colors, camera movements, and angles, some characters in the movie can be discovered as using drugs by some changes of their behaviors. For example, almost right after entering the Underland, Alice looks for the Caterplillar called Absolem. The Caterpillar’s house was hidden by a smoke which seems to be a smoke from cigarettes. At this moment of the scene, the audience can notice that the Caterpillar is definitely smoking a cigarette. When Alice meets the Caterpillar, the Caterpillar is holding a pipe while he talks with Alice. Alice coughs several times because of the smoke from the cigarette. This scene is fairly obvious that the Caterpillar is smoking a cigarette which contains nicotine. Also, Tim Burton sets Alice and the Caterpillar face each other while talking to each other when the Caterpillar is smoking. This scene reflects the real world that adults smokes in front of people while talking with some people even if they are children no matter how young they are. It implies that adults do not really care the danger of smoking cigarettes to growing up children. This scene addresses problematic side of the corrupted world. People do not actually realize cigarettes are also a kind of drugs. Therefore, they just smoke cigarettes in front of children and the scene shows how adults are not aware of children.
Unlike some of the other movies of my childhood such as The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast, Alice had no inclination to find her way to Prince Charming. She instead embraced a childlike curiosity that got her both into trouble and out of it. The gender roles played out in Disney’s newer, live action version of Alice in Wonderland are a bit different than both Caroll’s original book and Disney’s original film, however.
The fact that the new Alice in Wonderland features a much older Alice, on the verge of marriage, exposes a bit of our society’s infatuation with portraying a much “older” image as favorable (can kids just not be kids anymore?) This idea of marriage helps exemplify the gender roles present, however. There is much pressure on Alice to not only marry the geeky red-headed aristocrat, but his mother also assumes she will fill her proper gender role by spouting off all of his dietary needs at the very start of the film. Alice seems to go along with it at first, but later catches her sister’s husband cheating-this seems to be the turning point in her attitude, and possibly the cause of her running away after the proposal.
It is important to note that within Alice in Wonderland most of the leadership roles are fulfilled by women-the Queen of Hearts is, of course, the particularly brutal ruler. The White Queen, on the other hand, is the softer, feminine queen that is slowly gaining discreet support. The gender roles of these two queens are very important, especially when you take into consideration the effect their predicament has on Alice. The Queen of Hearts demonstrates that in order to get ahead you must take on a violent and fear-inducing persona-traditionally masculine in our society. The White Queen embraces no such violence, and states a few times within the film that acting violently is “against her vows.” However, she has no qualms sending others to do her dirty work-hence sending Alice to slay the Jabberwocky (cutting off his head, no less).
Though the main leadership roles of Alice in Wonderland are held by females, it seems the “brains behind the operation” in both cases happen to fall with men-the Red Knight for the Red Queen, and most ironically the Mad Hatter for the White Queen. This gives the gender roles an interesting place. The Red Queen is comically shown to be quite stupid-and rather naÃ¯ve as well. The manipulative Knight rules Wonderland through the Queen. The White Queen may be the ruling figurehead trying to rise up in power, but it is the Mad Hatter that leads and organizes the resistance against the Red Queen. Really, the White Queen does little other than stand as a symbol.
I commended the makers of Alice in Wonderland at first for allowing the White Queen to retain her femininity, but it was because of her particular lack of action that I was a bit saddened. She needed Alice to save her kingdom and stand as her “champion,” but again, Alice had to take on masculine traits in order to do this.
Now, I have no problems with females embracing courage within children’s movies. Empowering girls is a great action to take, but I feel at the same time that it is a bit archaic that in order to succeed one must take on masculine characteristics. In this way, the gender roles within Alice in Wonderland are a bit hegemonic in nature-perpetuating the idea of “masculine” as ideal in our society. This ideal is perpetuated in the end of the film. I loved that Alice did not end up marrying, and became a part of the company her father left behind-a positive message showing that Alice indeed has the adventurous nature of her father. But forsaking the traditional female gender role to embrace a more masculine version also isn’t the answer.
What would have been the proper ending for Alice in Wonderland? There is no easy answer here. I don’t believe that the ending was improper, or sexist. It is obviously attempting to empower young girls to seek new horizons, which I entirely support. My suggestion is perhaps to not make the contrast between feminine and masculine quite so sharp. It shouldn’t be “settle down and be a housewife” vs. “adventure with your father’s trade route and see the world, after slaying a hideous creature.” Gender roles today should be much more fluid in their interpretation, I believe. Why such a stark dichotomy between masculine and feminine within Alice in Wonderland, as well as our own culture? I’m not saying we should perpetuate historical female gender roles, but we shouldn’t demonize them either. The point is to consider all gender attributes to be equal, and just as likely within every person. Alice in Wonderland does a good job of showing females embracing masculine characteristics (in both positive and negative ways), but they do little in showing men with fluid gender roles, positively embracing typically female gender attributes.
I think Alice in Wonderland made a good effort at empowering young girls to overcome their traditional gender roles to broaden horizons. I believe by giving the White Queen highly feminine traits, and the Red Queen negatively violent traits, we see a step in the right direction in getting away from idealized aggressive masculine traits. Though there are some obvious issues, I would say Alice in Wonderland did a relatively good job in promoting healthy gender roles to the youth of our culture. But more work is still yet to be done.
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