Alice in Wonderland

but not the book. The movie. The Tim Burton production, to be exact. This is not a movie of the book at all, but an imagined extension of the book, if Alice had come back to Wonderland at 20 instead of only once at 7. As such, its main similarities are in the use of characters that resemble those in the original Tenniel illustrations. Johnny Depp features prominently, if almost unrecognizably in digitally-altered form, as the Mad Hatter. Aside from a rather long middle section where the Hatter gives a bit too much backstory on why the Red Queen is bad, the movie is an enjoyable romp-turned-quest. Though the words from Jabberwocky also feature prominently, gone is all of Carroll's logic games, puzzles, trickery. Alice instead takes on the hero's role; her quest foretold in a scroll and carried out when she dons armor and picks up the vorple sword. All in all, it's a fun DVD to watch.

But that's not really what I wanted to blog about. What strikes me is that, over time, the answer to the question of whether/when you can go back through the portal to the fantasy land has changed. I'd speculate that it has changed in ways that reflect the extension of youth in our society. If you think back to Carroll's Alice or to Wendy in Peter Pan, the answer used to be that the realms of fantasy were relegated to youth, childhood to be precise. Certainly to pre-adolescence. As Hollywood remakes (or makes) these tales, "youth" extends out of childhood and into the late teens and early twenties to provide vehicles for hot young actors of both genders. Jennifer Connelly in Labryinth comes to mind as a mid-range example, and the movie Labryinth also hits this mid point on the can-you-go-back question. Whereas Barrie's Wendy just had to move on and grow up, Sarah in Labryinth was able to revisit her trusty troop of Henson-created friends whenever she needed them. Whether this was real or imaginary was left to the viewer, but when Hoggle says "should you need us" at the end, it seems as if she'll have ongoing connections with the fantasy characters, if not the land of Labryinth. But we never really know the age of Connelly's character, though she appears to be (and probably was) a young teenager.

Now back to Burton's Alice in Wonderland, in which we see fantasy adventure taking place, explicitly, for a 20-year-old young woman who remembers only that she "dreamed" of Wonderland back when she was 7. As the movie begins, she is on the cusp of adulthood, about to consider a marriage proposal. Midway through, she remembers everything, and realizes that the recurring "nightmare" of her childhood was quite real. For the viewer, this frames the original tale as her childhood experience, and allows this new tale in the movie to diverge in a number of different directions. At the end, she eschews marriage and instead takes to the high seas, her rabbit-hole adventure having awakened a broader taste for adventure. It's an interesting shift to note, as we also see a cultural and even scientific extension of the concept of "youth," pushing "adulthood" ever later, into the mid-20s at least.

So the story used to be that you had to leave behind childish things. Now, it seems that childish things are just the transformative catalyst needed to, say, end a disastrous engagement and catapult our young heroine into a life of adventure on the high seas. And just to come back to reality one more time, I also wonder how this way of thinking about the ever expanding place of fantasy interacts with the financial crisis that is sending so many new graduates back to family homes.

Fantasy often says curious things about the culture that is intended as its audience.