The evolution into today’s progressive society has challenged the significance of literature. What’s its purpose and what does it actually teach us? Without literature our culture and values would not have developed to shape our society. Literature mirrors society’s continual change in values as shown through Lewis Carroll’s novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and its two manifestations, Walt Disney’s animated film Alice in Wonderland and ABC’s television series Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. Values are shaped, carried through and challenged throughout all three texts due to differing social influences.
Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland is a fantasy novel, written by Carroll Lewis who’s real name is Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, in 1865. The novel features a young English girl, Alice, who falls down a rabbit hole into the nonsensical world of Wonderland and conveys childhood values present in Victorian society. In 1951, Walt Disney recontextualised this classic in the film Alice in Wonderland. This cartoon manifests and challenges the values embedded in Carroll’s novel. Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, and Wilfred Jackson directed the film and it closely follows the events of Carroll’s novel. Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, also appropriates Carroll’s novel and aired in 2013. This series follows Alice’s adventures after she becomes a young woman and is placed into an asylum for recounting her tales in Wonderland. I will go on to discuss how Carroll’s novel and Disney’s film reflect the relationship between text, culture and values, not the television production. I concluded that after careful consideration Disney’s adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has closer ties to the novel, allowing me to comprehensively investigate the relationship between text, culture and values.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a humorous novel that explores the values and attitudes towards childhood in the Victorian era. Carroll characterises Alice as a product of a typical Victorian upper-class family indicated through her appearance and mannerisms. The 7-year-old finds her life unfulfilling and dreams of a land that does not restrict her imagination. In Victorian society this rebellious and curious behaviour was frowned upon and deemed immature. As she enters the nonsensical land of Wonderland, Alice’s character undergoes several changes while ‘growing up’. The physical changes that many teenagers experience when undergoing puberty are symbolised through Alice’s constant fluctuation in size after consuming strange concoctions. As a result, Alice becomes increasingly unsure of her identity, emphasised through Carroll’s wordplay, pointing out the identity crisis that occurs during puberty.
Alice’s character growth becomes evident as she gains independence, strength and courage. Her maturation is also displayed through her strict manner and disengagement with common childhood antics, demonstrating the attitude towards adolescence in the 19th century. While Carroll’s colourful visual imagery challenges the importance of imagination, Alice eventually adheres to Victorian expectations regarding growing up. The is seen through the trial with the Red Queen as Alice claims Wonderland is “stuff and nonsense” which is ironic because she dreamed of this land to fulfil her “boring” life. Her frustration grows at the nonsensical nature of Wonderland and deems it and the Red Queen childish. When Alice wakes up from her dream it signifies her loss of imagination as she matures into an accepted young woman of Victorian society. Hence, while Carroll raises concerns surrounding the loss of innocence and imagination, he reflects the accelerated maturity that is valued throughout the Victorian society.
Nearly a century later, Walt Disney released Alice in Wonderland which manifests and undermines values conveyed in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This appropriation of the novel displays an updated perspective on the value of childhood which was common throughout American society in the 20th century. By the 1930s, American society regarded the concept of childhood with great worth due to a decline in infant mortality. The strict expectations and discipline of children considerably relaxed since the Victorian era. These new attitudes towards children and the rising consumer potential of children throughout the 20th century as well as Carroll’s concerns surrounding the loss of imagination and innocence influenced the making of this Disney film. Alice in Wonderland’s extremely vivid setting and joyous soundtrack glorify typical aspects of childhood. It reinforces the film’s playfulness and raises the entertaining factor. However, Disney also uses this film to educate viewers intertextually referencing classic fables and cautionary tales such as the “Walrus and the Carpenter” scene. The development of Alice still occurs over the course of the film, yet, the slapstick humour downplays the theme of identity crisis. Deborah Ross, a British journalist, claims that Carroll’s portrayal of childhood is rushed and fleeting before girls enter the ‘dull reality of womanhood’. The cartoon remake contradicts the value of accelerated childhood as Alice never matures to the same extent. Instead, she runs away from the Red Queen and escapes by simply waking from her dream which is reinforced through an eyeline match shot. Disney retains Alice’s playful and childish features demonstrating the value in childhood unlike the novel which only values its acceleration. This modernistic approach explores how innocence and a child’s imagination is far more appraised in the 20th century and consequently challenges Carroll’s perspective. While Carroll had concerns about the loss of imagination and innocence, Alice never strays far from what is deemed as socially acceptable. Thus, Disney’s manifestation, Alice in Wonderland, subtly subverts Carroll’s Victorian depiction of the value in childhood, imagination and innocence.
Both Carroll and Disney’s unique depictions of childhood explore the loss of imagination and youthfulness relevant to their respective contexts. Carroll uses Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to portray Victorian attitudes that adolescents should mature and disengage in childish behaviours. The adaptation, Alice in Wonderland, was contextually impacted by the decreased infant mortality during the 20th century, hence, the film celebrates childhood and children are encouraged to preserve their innocence and creativity. By researching these texts, the influence of past cultures and values are evident in present texts. They help form the purpose of the composer and the textual concepts reflected through their appropriate context.