Hypothetical Film Festival #8 – Visions of Wonderland

So Tim Burton’s rendition of the Wonderland story has been unleashed upon theaters. This, of course is not the first time this story has hit the big screen and it won’t be the last. In fact the archetypal elements of Lewis Carroll’s 19th century novel have been incorporated into films that might not be immediately recognizable as Wonderland. Here’s a line up of pictures that re-tell Alice’s adventures in a new way, with new twists.

Dreamchild (1986, dir. Gavin Millar)

Starring Ian Holm, Coral Browne, Peter Gallagher
It’s the 100th birthday of Lewis Carroll and a radio station in Depression-era New York has brought the real Alice, Alice Lidell, overseas to recount her friendship with the late author. As Alice is asked to think back to her childhood, she begins to lose track of the line between reality and fiction. We see her hallucinates as she walks from her hotel room into the Mad Hatter’s tea party where is berated for having become so old. The film also doesn’t shy away from addressing the possibly inappropriate nature of Carroll and Lidell’s relationship. The author was known for his photographs of young girls in various states of undress and in the years that followed his death this had led to much speculation. While this is no masterpiece, it is a very inventive look at the mind of Lewis Carroll.

Labyrinth (1987, dir. Jim Henson)

Starring Jennifer Connelly, David Bowie, Terry Jones, Elaine May
You have a young girl who is pulled into a magical world where she encounters absurd and insane creatures. Labyrinth is very much influence by Alice and her adventures. If you haven’t seen this classic 80s flick, young Sarah wishes her younger brother away and this is granted by the Goblin King (Bowie). Now Sarah has 13 hours to navigate a giant maze before her younger brother is transformed into a goblin. The creative force of Jim Henson is behind this film which means it is a art director’s dream. The set and creature design is of the highest caliber and reminds us of a time when not every thing in a fantasy film was computer-generated.

Spirited Away (2001, dir. Hayao Miyazaki)

Starring (in the English version) Daveigh Chase, Suzanne Pleshette, Jason Marsden, Michael Chiklis
The very different and wonderful Japanese take on Alice in Wonderland. Master animator Hayao Miyazaki takes young Chihiro on a journey through a strange tunnel in the woods. She ends up in a world where her parents have been transformed into pigs and she is forced into servitude by an evil witch at a bathhouse for ghosts. She befriends a young wizard, Haku who helps her discover the secret of defeating the witch and rescue her parents. The animation in this film proves that this form of art is not just for children. It is amazing that a human hand could create such lush and gorgeous worlds.

Tideland (2005, dir. Terry Gilliam)

Starring Jodelle Ferland, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Tilly
This is a very dark and twisted take on the Wonderland myth, but that’s to be expected when dealing with Gilliam’s work. Jeliza-Rose is the daughter of a burnt out and drug addicted rock star (Bridges) who takes his girl to his mother’s old house in the middle of a unnaturally beautiful field somewhere in middle America. Jeliza doesn’t realize it but her pop O.D.s on drugs and is dead in the house for days as she ventures out to explore. She meets a mysterious veiled woman and her mentally challenged son who believes there is a land shark lose in the fields. Jeliza become more and more wrapped up in this fantasy world until she may be lost in it. The direction this film goes in its finale is very unexpected.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, dir. Guillermo del Toro)

Starring Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones, Maribel Verdu
As expected, del Toro puts both a Spanish and uniquely fantastic spin on Carroll’s original story. Here the instigator of the White Rabbit is replaced by a demonic faun who convinces young Ofelia that she is the long lost princess of a magic kingdom. Ofelia explores the forest surrounding her new home and encounters a series of mystical and fantastic challenges. Del Toro adds a real world flipside which is infinitely more horrific than anything Ofelia faces. Not only is this a great reinterpretation of the Wonderland source material, it is one of the best pieces of Spanish cinema ever made.

Phoebe in Wonderland (2009, dir. Daniel Barnz)

Starring Elle Fanning, Felicity Huffman, Bill Pullman, Patricia Clarkson, Campbell Scott
Phoebe suffers from a form of Tourettes which leaves her feeling like the odd one out at school and home. Her parents try to take deal with her condition in very different ways, dad acts like it doesn’t exist and mom wants to face it head on. Only when Phoebe becomes involved in her school’s production of Alice in Wonderland and meets the director, Miss Dodger does she find a place where she can express herself. This film is such a loving and gentle piece of cinema that never comes off as maudlin or dishonestly manipulative of the audience’s emotions. Phoebe is no angel and can be quite snarky. In addition, the fantasy sequences where Phoebe loses herself in Wonderland are visually rich and impressive that they used no computer generated effects.

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