Alice in Wonderland
By Logan Schurr
The film begins with Alice sitting outside, listening to her sister read when she sees a white rabbit in a coat run across the pond. She follows it into a rabbit hole and falls in. Once inside, she begins a journey in an unusual world. She encounters many mysterious characters, most of whom have bad manners. Alice drinks a variety of potions that affect her size while trying to locate the white rabbit. She gets very frustrated with the nonsense of the world and tries to leave. She is directed to go to the Queen for help. Alice gets to the Queen’s Castle, where the Queen orders anyone she doesn’t like to be executed. The Queen challenges Alice to croquet but the Cheshire Cat plays a trick on the Queen. The Queen blames Alice and orders her execution. Alice eats a magic mushroom that makes her large again and she flees the courtroom. As she gets to the door from the beginning of the movie, he tells her that she is already outside, asleep. Then she wakes up and realizes it was all a dream.
Alice in Wonderland, the 1951 film version has many signs pointing towards its liberal ideology. According to Giannetti’s ideology spectrum in Understanding Movies, the film has quite of bit of evidence of socialist ideology due to it’s anti-monarchy themes. This film communicates positive messages to children, such as the magic of creativity and importance of manners. However, there are also very strong negative messages being communicated such as drug references and political symbols.
The two main positive messages that Alice in Wonderland conveys are the magic of creativity and manners. In the very beginning of the film, Alice sings, “In a World of My Own,” which is sung to make her boring life more interesting. Her imagination helps her escape her regular life, a tool that some kids in the audience may need to overcome hardship. For example, she sings, “lots of nice and friendly howdy-do birds… in a world of my own.” This examples relies mostly on pathos because of the feel-good nature of the song and the emotions involved with her want to escape the normal world. The second message, teaching the importance of manners, is evident throughout her experiences in Wonderland. Tweedledee and Tweedledum attempt to teach her manners by getting her to introduce herself to them. Later, when the white rabbit and the caterpillar are rude to her, Alice comments on the lack of manners expressed by these characters. This message most heavily relies on ethos because it is actually teaching ethics. By supporting manners and teaching a girl how she should act, Alice in Wonderland is essentially teaching ethics. These messages are positive ones for kids, and successfully achieved through the use of pathos and ethos, very kid-friendly types of appeals.
The most prominent negative messages suggested in Alice in Wonderland are the references to drugs and the political symbolization. One of the most frequently criticized aspects of this film are the drug references. For example, Alice drinks several poisons and eats mushrooms to change her physical being. In addition, the Caterpillar, who is not a very friendly character, is suspected to be either smoking hookah or referencing opium, as the base of the contraption looks like a poppy. In addition, he is the character who advises Alice to eat the mushroom. To see more specific scene and drug-related references in the film, check out this website. Not to mention the suspicion that the whole film is a psychedelic “trip.” As far fetched as it may seem, the appeal used to convey this message is logos, as this storyline begins to make more sense when viewing it through a psychedelic lens. Alice’s “trip” clearly distorts the real world but also helps her better understand reality. The second negative message deals with its political agenda. It is very clearly satirizing Victorian England and especially Queen Victoria. During Queen Victoria’s reign, the legal system was chaotic, much like the one depicted in Alice in Wonderland. In addition, the walrus and the carpenter, the two characters in Tweedledee and Tweedledum’s story, are somewhat representative of politicians and their greedy nature. To convey these symbols, the film utilizes ethos to reference a sort of “brand” of politics and of Victorian England. By alluding to the brand of Victorian England or the stereotype of politicians, ethos is employed to strengthen the argument. To relate it to Giannetti’s Ideology chapter in Understanding Movies, the Queen of Hearts is negatively drawn and because she represents monarchy, it’s safe to say the film has a more leftist ideology. These negative messages are especially prominent in this Disney film and are more controversial as the main audience is children.
The negatives have definitely outweighed the positives in Alice in Wonderland. Since the psychedelic interpretation became common in the 1960s, it’s typically the only thing most people associate with the film. It is widely known to be a secret symbol for drugs and seems to provide a darker view of the world than most children’s films. I’m giving this film a 3 nacho rating because while it is fun to watch and the adventure inspires imagination, the symbolism is almost distracting. I would recommend this film for viewing but mostly with a critical eye not for entertainment.