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Page to Screen: Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Updated on July 24, 2015


To be clear, this film is not a direct adaptation of the book. Instead, the movie proposes itself to be a sequel, which creates a different kind of relationship with the book, not unlike that of the Jurassic Park sequels and the original novel. That being said, this film not only seeks to adapt one book, but another, Lewis Carrol's Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.

Tim Burton's Film Poster

Film poster for Alice in Wonderland (2010).
Film poster for Alice in Wonderland (2010). | Source

The Film

The 2010 film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland is directed by Tim Burton, the same figure who remade and made Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare before Christmas, and so many, many more. It features a large cast and impressive lineup of actors and actresses, including Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, as well as voices from Alan Rickman, Michael Sheen, Stephen Fry, Sir Christopher Lee, and numerous more.

Using the setting and some aspects of the characters in the literary works, this follows Alice on her second trip down the rabbit hole where she attempts to help the White Queen regain the throne from her sister while slaying the Jabberwocky. It has quite a few accomplishments to itself, such as Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design from the 83rd Academy Awards, as well as being ranked the 16th highest grossing film of all time

The Books

The subject books that are used as source material for Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland are Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) & Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871). Both works were written by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, known better by his pen name Lewis Carrol, and are classified as literary nonsense, filled with talking, anthropomorphic animals and plants, puzzling scenarios that force one to change size, and excellent wordplay.

As such, there's barely a plotline that involves Alice trying to find her way home (in the first book) and in the sequel she's trying to be crowned Queen. Nonetheless, the words and characters (supported by John Tenniel's iconic illustrations) are hard to forget and likely to charm their audience. That goes to explain why so many cinematic adaptations are made off this source material.

Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland

Book cover for Alice in Wonderland.
Book cover for Alice in Wonderland. | Source

The Adaptation

There is no doubt whatsoever that Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland is a visual treat full of vivid colors (most of the time) and full of memorable images that stay true to Tenniel's illustrations. So many of the movie posters do a fantastic job in advertising itself.

Then there's the plot. Both Wonderland literary works belong to nonsensical literature and result in little to no plot. Due to the nature of cinemas, most adaptations require a new plotline. In effect, most films put the two meager plotlines together, generally initiating Alice to follow a White Rabbit into Wonderland, in order to satisfy some royal dispute, generally with the Red Queen/Queen of Hearts as the antagonist. This film is really no different in that regard.

The Plot
Written by Linda Woolverton (a writer who frequents much of Disney's works), the plot revolves around a 19 year old Alice, one who's on her second trip to 'Underland' in her subconscious pursuit of self-respect. Unfortunately, this resolution appears as Alice donning armor and a sword and kills a beast simply because a prophecy said she should, becoming like most other sci-fi/fantasy adventure films that end in the same way when the plot had potential to be much more. It sacrifices the almost oblivious voice that accompanied the story to one that holds the audiences' hands and tells them all what they're seeing, especially in the last Act.

Queen of Hearts/Red Queen
Contrary to belief (outside of the book readers), the Queen of Hearts is not the Red Queen. The former Queen is literally a card, specifically the one she is named after, has several affairs revolving around her, namely the flamingo croquet, the tart fiasco, and most notably, her quick solution by beheading. Her commands are quietly reversed by her husband, the King of Hearts, so no one ever really gets their head chopped off.

As for the Red Queen, she was slightly less antagonistic than the preceding Queen (the White Queen in fact has more in common, as they are both modeled after chess pieces in a mirror world, that is to say, everything is backwards). The Red Queen is known for "All ways are her ways," always loves to one up others, and has ridiculous speed. She attempts to execute no one, and even tries to protect some from Alice by introducing things like the talking pudding to make Alice awkward. She and the White Queen get along quite well.

Burton's Wonderland falls into the typical stereotype of making the Red Queen to have only the Red Queen's title and chess theme with all of the characteristics of the Queen of Hearts. To make her more unique, this iteration gives her an enlarged head, which gives an entertaining interplay between her and the Mad Hatter, as well as giving a basis for a rather interesting court. Not to mention, Helena Bonham Carter did an absolutely fantastic job in bringing the character to life. In addition, they give her the rather tried and true sibling rivalry which mixes with her desire to be an uncontested ruler of 'Underland.'

The Jabberwock(y)
The poem called The Jabberwocky is referenced within Through the Looking Glass and is another one of Lewis Carroll's poems, one filled with made-up words that Alice herself sums up perfect, "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas-- only I don't exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something; that's clear, at any rate-..."

The creature of the poem is actually called the Jabberwock. Within the poem, a boy, under the advice of his father, goes out to a strange world, encountering strange creatures and environments, before encountering the monstrous Jabberwock and beheading it with a vorpal sword. Then, he brings the severed head back to his father and they celebrate with a Frabjous Day.

The visual representation and added lightning breath was a fantastic portrayal of the wild creature. There was little reason why it actually worked for the Red Queen in the film, and while they gave it a voice it must indicate that it is an intelligent being and we saw so little of it. The American McGee adaptation of Alice in Wonderland already used the Jabberwock as a direct antagonist to Alice and arguably did it better, albeit in a far different context.

The Mad Hatter
The Hatter (Mad Hatter is a popular name although Lewis Carroll never gave this name to the character) is played by the infamous Johnny Depp in the film. In the books, the Mad Hatter is a very limited character, permanently assigned to stay in a Tea Party since he was accused of killing the Time. He is equal in importance as the March Hare and share the same qualities, making rhymes without answers, being in trouble with the law, being indiscriminately rude, and constantly switching spots at the table.

Tim Burton is by far not the first to give the Hatter a huge piece of importance in a film. He is, however, first to assign the role to Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp is phenomenal actor and has many mile markers to prove that; however, like Tim Burton, he has a sense of style that saturates the part they play or direct. Many times, you'll recognize traits of the Mad Hatter that you'll see in Captain Jack Sparrow or Willy Wonka, creating a Hatter character that's a little more watered down with Depp than being its own character. I will say I am happy that they didn't make the character an overt love interest for Alice, as so many adaptations seek to do.

There's no such thing as a Futterwacken in the books either.

The Movie Trailer for Tim Burton's Film

Closing Comments

The strongest aspect of the film is the visuals, by and large, and in all honestness, they're quite gorgeous (most of the time). Even better, the adaptation takes heavy hints from John Tenniel's illustrations, the work that has become synonymous with Lewis Carroll's work. For its time, it was one of the most wonderfully computer generated worlds and will probably remain that way for some time longer.

However, the film suffers from its generic storyline applied to a unique world. It's pretty and showy, but doesn't boast a lot of substance. It's not that this is a bad movie by any means (although it is undeniably predictable and aside from the one setting where Alice is in the Red Court, you know what happens as soon as the plot opens up), but it's almost disappointing with such strong potential in the original work to land the way that it did. The masses disagree, of course, as the film made a ridiculous amount of money, but this remains my opinion.

The world of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland is a peculiar one that is unique in its characters and wordplay, as well as its train of thought. There are many adaptations that try to emulate Carroll's perspective and there are those that attempt to take the world and put their own stylized flair to it. Tim Burton is a recognizable name known for creating a sort of almost dark comedy with haunting visuals. Unfortunately, this Alice in Wonderland adaptation comes across more as a Tim Burton trophy horse than a faithful adaptation.

Book vs. Movie

For those of you who read the book and watched the movie, what did you prefer?

See results

Further Reading

You can read commentary on the Page-to-Game adaptation in American McGee's Alice series here.

You can read more Page to Screen adaptation commentaries if you click here.

© 2014 Travis Wood


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    • Travis W Wood profile imageAUTHOR

      Travis Wood 

      4 years ago from Woodstock, Georgia

      Thanks for reading and the comment Laura! I appreciate it.

    • Laura335 profile image

      Laura Smith 

      4 years ago from Pittsburgh, PA

      It's been so long since I've read the book that it was nice to get a little refresher course in the original text. I consider the movie similar to "Hook" though not as good. What I did like about the movie was Alice's relationship with the characters. Good Hub!


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