For those of you that don’t know, Alice is the main character of Lewis Carroll’s classic book, Alice in Wonderland. The story starts when a little girl follows a talking rabbit into a place called Wonderland and from thereon in it just gets really, really weird. All sorts of shenanigans ensue, mainly as the result of Alice eating whatever’s lying around and trying to force various talking animals to adhere to some kind of logic. It ends happily when Alice escapes a beheading (but wouldn’t that put anyone in a good mood?) and continues along the same strange, strange lines in the sequel, Through the Looking-Glass.
Unlike a lot of the other comparison posts I’ve done so far, Alice in Wonderland has a clear source – Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel. But much like Dracula and my post on Mina Harker, this doesn’t mean that there’s only one version of the story. Even though it was published fairly recently (I mean, when you compare it to all the fairy tales) the story has made a massive impact.
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass have had a massive impact on the popular consciousness. There are millions of adaptations and new editions of the story, covering everything from films, TV programmes, musicals, cartoons, comic books, video games, operas, and an incredible amount of visual art. And that’s not even mentioning the enormous range of stories that use elements of the story in smaller ways – and that can be seen in anything from anime to The Matrix.
But despite all these countless Alice in Wonderland adaptations and re-tellings, I’m only going to look at six, because I’ve occasionally got to do things like eat and sleep.
Let’s get started – but watch out for spoilers!
In the original version Alice is very much a key player – it’s her name in the title, after all. What’s unusual is that unlike a lot of other Victorian heroines, it’s her actions that set the story in motion when she goes down the rabbit hole, so she’s much more in control of her own destiny. Her goals tie into the story but her beliefs are more solid – she puts a lot of emphasis on logical thought, for instance, which often results in conflict with the inhabitants of Wonderland.
She’s a little bit of a generic Victorian child character but she is consistently so. It’s completely possible to describe her without referencing her appearance, love life or the words ‘Strong Female Character’ because her story doesn’t really touch on any of these things. She also doesn’t have a love life, as she’s seven years old.
She doesn’t develop over the course of the story and she doesn’t really have a weakness that holds her back – while she doesn’t adapt well to Wonderland’s weirdness that doesn’t have any lasting consequences, and her inability to foresee the consequences of her actions can hardly count as a character defect in a seven-year-old child. However, she is a strong influence on the plot and while she is a little generic, the fact that she actually gets to do quite a lot undercuts some of the gender stereotypes at play here. She doesn’t really have many significant relationships with other female characters, but there is at least more than one. Overall, she’s a lot better than most heroines of her day and age.
FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10
This animated adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s works is definitely one of the most well-known – and that’s largely thanks to Disney. This version takes elements of both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and combines them to make a brightly coloured, nonsensical film that, if I’m honest, still creeps me out a little.
Much of what can be said about the original books still applies to this version – it’s not a strictly faithful adaptation but remains true to the general spirit of the novels. Alice is still in control of her own destiny and still has clear goals and beliefs. She’s a little generic, doesn’t have a love life, and can be defined without referencing her appearance, boyfriends or the words ‘Strong Female Character’.
She doesn’t really develop much – Disney tries to shoehorn in a lesson about the importance of home, but this is all slightly undercut when Alice wakes up to discover it was all just a really weird dream. She doesn’t have a weakness but she is still an active character, and much like in the original novel this softens the impact of some of the traditional gender stereotypes she dabbles in. She has even fewer relationships with other female characters – mainly just her sister and the Queen of Hearts – and these are sketched along the broadest of lines with no real depth.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10
And now we come to the inevitable YA adaptation. In The Looking Glass Wars, Wonderland is an alternate universe where people can quite literally imagine the stuff they want out of thin air. When it’s taken over by the evil Queen Redd, the rightful heir to the throne (Princess Alyss) escapes into our world – but eventually has to return to cast Redd out and take her place as queen.
Obviously this is a very different story to Carroll’s original. What’s most noticeable is that Alyss doesn’t have anywhere near the same amount of control over her life as the original version does – throughout the trilogy she’s reacting to the villains, not doing stuff on her own. Her goals and beliefs are clear: she wants to defeat the villains and believes that the power of imagination should only be used for good – something the novel refers to as ‘White Imagination’ and is an important part of the plot. Alyss is also consistently brave, determined and kind (albeit a little generic), and it is possible to describe her without referencing her love life, appearance, or the words ‘Strong Female Character’.
Her love life is a feature of the story but it doesn’t affect most of her decisions – she’s more preoccupied with defeating Redd. She’s also a strong influence on the plot. However, she doesn’t really develop over the course of the story and she doesn’t really have a weakness – the things she has to overcome are either a direct result of the villains’ actions or the adjustment period after spending ten years in a world with no tangible manifestation of imagination.
When it comes to gender stereotypes she’s a bit of a mixed bag – she does need rescuing a fair few times but on the other hand she is a strong and competent ruler, which is all the more important as this version of Wonderland is actually a matriarchy. She also has plenty of relationships with other female characters, all of which are different in their own ways.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10
Alice in Wonderland is notorious for gritty and dark remakes. There are several retellings of the story that really turn up the scary dial, so that what was only mildly unsettling in Lewis Carroll’s original becomes utterly and completely horrifying. This version of the story is set in a gritty urban jungle and centres around Alice – in this case, a missing American heiress who lost her memory – trying to get her memory back while on the run from various creepy criminals. I chose this one in particular because I wanted to look at an adaptation that really leaned in to all the creepy stuff and made an effort to put the story in a completely different setting.
I have never regretted anything more.
This film – aside from being an hour and a half of my life that I’m never going to get back – is an absolute trainwreck. It’s style over substance taken to ridiculous lengths, with little to no coherent plot and characters that have all the personality of those flat, cardboard celebrity masks. Alice is no exception.
She is utterly and completely useless. She spends the whole film running away from people, sitting around, and taking a bunch of drugs because a random cab driver told her to. She wants to regain her memory and run off with Danny Dyer but that’s all there is to her. She has no personality whatsoever, can’t go two minutes without someone talking about how pretty she is, and makes absolutely no decisions of her own. That’s because in the course of eighty-seven minutes, she gets kidnapped SIX TIMES.
She doesn’t develop over the course of the story because in order to do that she’d have to have a personality to begin with. She has no weaknesses unless you’re going to count her total and utter lack of common sense, self-preservation skills and personality. She influences the plot just by being in it, never once making any decisions for herself, and when it comes to gender stereotypes she is the definition of the damsel in distress. She talks to two or three other female characters but the conversations she has with them leave absolutely no impact – she talks, she leaves, and she forgets them.
I did actually toy with the idea of putting up my notes for this film, just so you could all see how much I suffered, but when I realised they were about forty percent swearing I decided against it. It’s basically an unfunny version of this sketch, with a couple of vague Lewis Carroll references shoved in:
All I’ll say is this: life is short, don’t waste your time.
FINAL SCORE: 0.5/10
Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland is a fairly standard reboot – things are made darker, weirder and generally more unsettling, with a few big set-piece battles thrown in for good measure. Set when Alice has grown into a young woman, the first film deals with her return to Wonderland (called Underland, for some reason) and defeat of the Red Queen, and its sequel – Alice Through the Looking Glass – is about various misadventures with time travel.
In this version, Alice is a reasonably active character, whose actions have an affect on her life – although it’s worth mentioning that a lot of what she does has apparently been ‘foretold’, so that does raise a few questions about whether she or ~*Fate*~ is responsible for her own actions. Her goals and beliefs are clear – she’s very anti-establishment, and wants to defeat the Red Queen – and for the most part she’s a consistent, if bland character. You can describe her without referencing her love life, appearance, or the words ‘Strong Female Character’, and as far as her love life actually goes, she doesn’t really have one.
She develops over the course of the first film, where she comes to terms with her weird experiences in Underland, but not in the second. She does have a weakness – she tries to avoid making decisions all the time, but this isn’t quite as prevalent in the second film. She’s a huge influence on the plot, has loads of different relationships with other female characters, and when it comes to gender stereotypes, she’s a character who has quite clearly been designed to subvert them. I didn’t really like her or the films all that much (I found them a bit bland, which takes effort when you’re working with material like Alice in Wonderland) but it’s quite clear that a lot of thought has been put into making her an active and balanced character.
FINAL SCORE: 9.5/10
Once Upon a Time has become a regular feature of my comparison posts – mainly because the show’s creators are determined to shoehorn in every single public domain character they can think of. Alice is no exception. She’s the star of this spin-off series set within the broad, broad confines of the Once Upon a Time universe, which starts off when Alice – who’s been confined to an asylum after talking about her experiences in Wonderland – decides to prove her sanity by going back to Wonderland and returning with proof.
In this version Alice is a very active character – she puts herself on her quest and decides how she’s going to accomplish her goals. Speaking of which these are pretty clear: she wants to get her father to believe she’s sane, get her boyfriend back and defeat the Red Queen (and Jafar, who’s in this for some reason). She’s a pretty consistent character who isn’t dependent on her love life, appearance or her identity as a ‘Strong Female Character’. She does make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life, but it has to be said that her boyfriend is a huge part of her motivation.
She doesn’t really develop or have much of a weakness, but she is a strong influence on the plot. When it comes to gender stereotypes she’s another one on the fence – she does quite a lot of untraditional things, but at the end of the day it all comes down to trying to get back her boyfriend. However, she does have loads of different relationships with other female characters which change over the course of the series.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10
And that’s my analysis of the various incarnations of Alice in Wonderland! It’s worth noting that unlike a lot of more traditional fairy tales, adaptations of the various Alice books tend to give the heroine a lot more to do – and I think that’s down to the very unconventional nature of the original book. There’s much higher scores across the board – without mentioning that soul-crushing uselessness vortex I can’t wait to forget about – and I think that really brings home the benefits of a more unconventional story.
Next week I’ll be back to my usual format and looking at an old favourite: The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Esmerelda, I’m coming for you.
And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.