Hello and welcome to In Too Deep Into Disney, where I over-analyse each Disney animated feature film over the course of a year.
Believe it or not one of my favourite duo of books is the Alice in Wonderland series by Lewis Carroll. I love the humour and wordplay found within them, since I often employ the same sort of rhetoric when talking to people. But in regards to the movie itself, what is the film actually about? Is it a play on philosophical concepts, mathematical concepts, or the simple nature of imagination? What is the meaning of Alice in Wonderland?
Let us break the film down set-piece by set-piece, starting with the meeting with the White Rabbit and the first song of the film. Speaking of songs, did you know that this is the Disney movie to have the most musical songs in it? True fact. Probably the only way you could adapt Lewis Carroll’s work is by making it musical. Mostly since a lot of the humour comes from his clever use of word-play found throughout the books (the more obvious examples being the Wonderland inhabitants taking the preciously wrong meaning when it comes to words with two meanings). But anyway, back to the original topic, the first song of the film and how it foreshadows everything that is about to come in the film.
â€œCats and rabbits
Would reside in little houses
And be dressed in shoes
And hats and trousers
In a world of my ownâ€
If I need to tell you what this foreshadows, then go watch the movie or preferably read the far superior book, then come back and finish reading this (although note the irony of ‘little houses’ since Alice ends up being stuck in a little house due to the size-changing mishaps).
â€œAll the flowers
Would have very
Extra special powers.
And talk to me for hours,
When I’m lonely
In a world of my own.â€
Sure enough exactly that happens when Alice is trapped at the height of 3 inches (which is, of course, a very respectable height) and bumps into flowers who are all personalized around the type of flower they are (the shy shrinking violet, the dandy-‘lions’ etc.).
â€œThere’d be new birds
Lots of nice and friendly
How-do’ya do birds
Everyone would have
A dozen blue birds
Within that world of my ownâ€
Okay this one isn’t as immediately clear as the others, but there are two ways of looking at it. The first is the bird that think Alice is a serpent, an ironic counter-point to the idea of them being friendly. The other is that most of the strange creatures Alice runs into are generally quite nice and based around birds in some way.
â€œI could listen to a babbling brook
And hear a song that I could understand
I keep wishing it could be that way
Because my world would be a wonderlandâ€
And here we get to the irony of the song. Alice reaches the idea that this Wonderland is a brilliant place to be. After the events of said song happen to here she hates it and gives herself Very Good Advice (that she rarely follows) in regards to her predicament. It is quite a good case of dramatic irony. She can’t understand anything of what is going on in this Wonderland and wishes she could be back home. So already in the first 5 minutes we have an idea of what Wonderland is (a place that Alice wants to be) and what it symbolizes (aka her childish desires).
It then follows we meet a very late rabbit who Alice follows down the rabbit hole and encounters the Doorknob not found in the book (the character function in the book is fulfilled by a mouse instead). The Doorknob tells her to eat and drink stuff that causes her to rapidly change size. Now in the books she talks about how she doesn’t know who she is and won’t leave until she finds a name she likes. A point that is later brought up when she talks to the Caterpillar and admits she doesn’t know who she is, a point somewhat lost in the movie due to it not being stated in the first place. Whilst there is no doubt a mathematical joke relating to the concept, I’m going to look at it a broad philosophical viewpoint. Namely the idea that if a rose was called by any other name would it smell so sweet? Believe it or not it’s a heavily-debated philosophical concept in relation to the idea of ‘self’. Namely if I took your mind and placed it in a different body, would you still be you? Even if that body was just a bigger or smaller version than your normal body, would that still mean you’re the same person? It ranges between yes or no, but that is the point of the scene. Since Alice is not the herself that she was when she first fell into the rabbit hole, she struggles to know if she’s the same person. Are you the same person that you were when you were 10 years old? No you’re undoubtedly different. Well the same logic here. The joke revolves around the fact that Alice struggles to understand the concept of self and thus thinks that because she changed size, she is no longer the same person. A funny joke, if you’re into that sort of philosophical humour.
After getting through the doorknob and participating in the Caucus Race (which is an example of Wonderland logic, namely that whilst it’s logical that if you keep running you will dry off, the outside circumstances that they ignored show how their logic is ultimately limited) she meets Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Now to diverge into the book for a moment (Through the Looking Glass btw, not Adventures in Wonderland. They’re from the sequel) she meets the Red King in the story, finding out that they’re all just a dream dreamt up by the Red King. Supposedly. It’s actually a good descriptor of what is otherwise known as Solipsism. Aka the only thing you can be certain to exist is your own mind; and since you can’t prove that anything else exists it could just exist in your head. It’s a minor plot point, but still an interesting point. Anyway onto the poem/song presented by the two.
The Walrus and the Carpenters, or Why Not To Be An Oyster. It’s here we see the real strength in Lewis Carroll’s writing. The original poem (the longest Tweedledum and Tweedledee know) tends to go into much more detail than the song. For example the first bit (the Carpenter talking about sweeping away the sand) is left to be a joke, whereas in the original poem it’s expanded out a bit. In fact a lot of the song condenses what is found in the original poem and makes it a lot shorter (and thus gets to the point a bit quicker). But the key thing to note is the contradictory nature of the poem, especially in its original form. It is written to be more focused on the rhyme than the narrative, often coming up with contraindicative elements like
â€œTheir shoes were clean and neat–
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn’t any feet.â€
So what is the purpose of this song? Well the purpose is that it is purposeless. The Walrus tricks both the Carpenter and the Oysters and wins out in the end. In fact there’s no justifiable reason why the Carpenter is there, since there is no reason for a Carpenter to be with a Walrus. Hence the contradictory nonsense. It makes no sense, but yet it exists anyway because it can. (Although in the Disney version they justify the Carpenter’s existence by having him build a little shack). It is just nonsense, hence the point of the song/poem in the grand scheme of things. To show the sort of irrelevant nonsense that Wonderland is built on.
Moving on Alice confronts the White Rabbit who, mistaking her for servant girl Mary-Ann, gets her to rush upstairs to get his gloves and fan. But being a girl who finds things curiouser and curiouser she eats something she shouldn’t and grows into a giant. Now it’s here where we can illustrate how much people’s perceptions of characters have changed over the last century and a half. When first written Alice, the inquisitive girl who often interrupted people with questions, was seen as being the worst type of role model for young little girls. For as we all know little girls are meant to be seen, not heard. At least that was how it was perceived. Nowadays Alice is seen as the average little girl, a little bit silly at times, but nothing out of the ordinary. Whilst taking something that isn’t yours is still seen as bad, we forgive Alice’s curiosity in these modern times since we don’t think of women and girls as objects. But at the time she was seen as a rude and impolite little girl. Perhaps it’s this change in social structure that highlights how out-of-touch the book is with our modern day lives (likewise it contains references to trivia and nursery rhymes from Victorian times that are lost save for the parodies that Lewis Carroll makes). A minor point, but an interesting one to briefly discuss none the less.
Now onto the two conjoined scenes that are my favourite part of the movie: A short scene with the flowers and a short scene with a bird. Both highlight this classic form of illogic. The first one goes thus:
Anything that is not a flower is a weed.
Alice is a flower.
Thus Alice is a weed.
The second one with the bird is thus:
Anything that eats eggs is a serpent.
Alice eats eggs.
Ergo she must be a serpent.
This is otherwise known as ‘affirming the consequent’ or, as I call it, the ‘A&B=AB’ fallacy. It goes as such.
There is a statement that is true (aka A).
There is a second statement related to the first that is true (aka B).
Thus if A and B are both true and related, then A must equal B.
Of course anyone with half a brain can immediately point out that this logic only works if we take one casual link as being the connection, aka Alice not being a flower or Alice eating eggs. There are in fact many counter-examples that prove that Alice is neither weed nor serpent. It is foolish to think these two tangentially connected things cause a proper consequence.
It’s otherwise known as the ‘correlation does not imply causation’ fallacy, where two things happening at the same time doesn’t necessarily mean that one thing caused the other thing to happen.
But this is all common sense, right?
â€¦ Unfortunately it happens way more often than you think; and more often than not you do it without realising. Where do you think the concepts of having ‘lucky charms’ and whatnot comes from? Or how you can use two events to fit into a theory you’ve already predetermined. And whilst I’m in no way immune to this logical fallacy, it annoys me when other people use it as if it was a valid argument.
But enough of my ranting, what does this have to do with Wonderland? Well it shows how the logic of the world works. Everything is Wonderland is more of less true to some degree. Everything in a way makes sense. Both A and B are true statements. But the point of Wonderland logic is to come to the entirely wrong conclusion using entirely flawed logic that seems legit when used by yourself personally. So whilst things or, rather, ’causes’ are true in Wonderland, the conclusion or ‘effects’ in Wonderland differ since it relies on using tangential links at best. Once you understand how this logic works however, you can have great fun trolling people by speaking perfectly logical gibberish. You never say anything that is wrong per say (since both statements are true), but you’re still making up nonsense by creating faulty conclusions.
Speaking of cause and effect, let us visit the Mad Tea Party. Featuring my favourite characters, Hatter and the March Hare (he’s never called the Mad Hatter in the books, just Hatter). Now I could go on about how these characters defy the laws of physics by living in a timeless world where cause doesn’t necessarily follow effect, but I’ve written about it before so I’ll just post the link: http://www.fanfiction.net/s/7822745/1/It_is_Six_Oclock The other part to notice is the logic he uses, claiming that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same as ‘I eat what I see’. Now I mentioned the earlier ‘A & B = AB’ logic and this is an extension of it. If I see is the same as I eat and the sentence makes sense, then would not the reverse likewise make sense since both halves of that statement are true? Of course not, but the joke plays on the idea of logic. If you said ‘it is raining and I am wet’ then you could say there is a causal connection between the two. Likewise the statement ‘I am wet and it is raining’ makes an equal amount of sense. So the joke plays on the logic that two propositions can make true sentences when put both ways, by doing it to the illogical extreme. Hence why I love using the same logic to troll people.
After leaving the tea party Alice strolls around Tulgey Wood and sees all manner of strange creatures. Now working on the rather sensible theory that this is indeed all just a dream, then it’s safe enough to say that the creatures that exist in this Wonderland can only exist if Alice had already seen the object that inspires them. Or in other words there couldn’t be umbrella-vultures if there weren’t first both umbrellas and vultures for Alice to see. Whilst these creatures seem strange and unbelievable they still need some sort of basis in reality to draw off. You can’t imagine something without first knowing the sort of things that could exist to imagine it. If I asked you to imagine a red Kiwi I suspect a lot of you wouldn’t be able to, because although you know what the colour red is you have no idea what the Kiwi looks like. Ergo your imagination would fail. Thus these strange creatures only help to illustrate that there can’t be a total absence of logic in Wonderland, because they are designed with some shred of logic in mind. Namely nothing cannot be imagined without first having something to be imagined with (likewise the logical equivalent is that the illogic of Wonderland can’t exist without first having the logic of the real world to compare it to for experience).
Fortunately the Cheshire Cat shows up to show Alice the way and give us some more brilliant logic. There are two bits I want to quote quickly, since they bring up the same point:
â€œAnd how do you know that you’re mad?”
“To begin with,” said the Cat, “a dog’s not mad. You grant that?”
“I suppose so,” said Alice
“Well, then,” the Cat went on, “you see a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.”
And of course the ever-famous:
“Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,” thought Alice; “but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life!”
To go on about how this brand of illogic works would be redundant since I’ve done so before, but suffice it to say they are some of my favourite quotes of all time.
Anyway Alice goes into the Royal Gardens and meets the Queen of Hearts and, if we’re still working on the logic that this is all a dream, then the Queen of Hearts is most definitely her Id. Her uncontrolled base urges. If you don’t know what the ‘Id’ is, according the creator Freud himself it is “contrary impulses exist side by side, without cancelling each other out…. There is nothing in the id that could be compared with negation … nothing in the id which corresponds to the idea of time.” If that doesn’t describe the Queen of Hearts to a T then you’ve been watching the wrong movie. And since the Id only operates in the unconscious state of mind, and dreams are found in this unconscious state, it only makes sense to put two and two together. Thus we have the Queen of Hearts, who exists as an extension of Alice herself. But what about ego and superego? Eh I’ll let you work that one out for yourself.
So there you have it. For a world without logic (in other words a dream world) Wonderland does run on a rather twisted but comprehensible form of logic. If you disagree with anything or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.