Director Tim Burton stated that he wanted to make his cinematic Alice someone with whom he could identify. Such an adult-friendly Alice was provided by scriptwriter Linda Woolverton, who had previously worked on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Lion King (1994), and Mulan (1998). As opposed to Lewis Carroll’s imaginary space of timeless childhood wonder lost to adults, Burton and Woolverton made Wonderland an actual place that can be revisited by a nineteen-year-old Alice on the verge of marriage and a career. Instead of lingering in the magic realm of childhood in endless mad tea parties and wonderfully pointless dialogues, Burton’s film feels as though it is in a hurry to move on to the sequel: a cinematic reification of the modern complaint that “kids are getting older younger.” Even the caterpillar in the film is in the act of becoming, changing into a butterfly as a metaphor for the transition to adulthood. Most notably, Woolverton has made Alice into a Hollywood action hero, vorpal sword in hand. While the feminist message is to be applauded, the application of any adult moral negates exactly the quality that was so revolutionary and funny about Carroll’s books: their revelry in sheer nonsense for its own sake.
My last example of an audio Wonderland is an earlier female interpretation of Carroll: the 1948 RCA Victor record of Eva Le Gallienne’s touring stage production of “Alice in Wonderland.” Le Gallienne’s adaptation was first performed at the New York Civic Repertory Theatre in 1932, and then made several tours of the US. The show was revived in 1947, when Le Gallienne was working with the American Repertory Theatre. Le Gallienne was a powerful and influential figure in American Theater, and was also romantically linked with Hollywood stars such as Alla Nazimova and Tallulah Bankhead, as well as one of the actresses who played Alice to her White Queen. Listen to her scene as the White Queen here:
The RCA record of Le Gallienne’s show is my favorite adaptation of Carroll’s work, and demonstrates that – evidence to the contrary – the Alice books can be successfully adapted for the stage, screen, or loudspeaker with their delicate charm intact. Listen here to Le Gallienne’s version of one of the funniest moments from “Through the Looking-Glass”: Alice’s encounter with Humpty Dumpty.