An Environmentalist's View of Alice in Wonderland

Disney's new Alice in Wonderland isn't on its face a film with a potent environmental message. Nonetheless, its plot and visuals lean us toward a romanticized view of nature and the outdoors.

The story plays out a decade or so after Disney's old one left off, and weaves in wide strands of Lewis Carroll's less-known sequel, Through the Looking-Glass. Alice, now an earnest teen, confronts a dilemma not unfamiliar to plots with an empowering female lead: society's overburdening expectation that she marry the wrong guy. During a highfalutin event on a lawn, all eyes are on her to say yes, creating an anguished, fork-on-the-trail pause. Then she sees that rushing rabbit, excuses herself to follow it, runs off into the greenery after him, and - you guessed it - falls into that fabled hole.

What follows is a somewhat trippy battle of good versus evil, and of true-to-selfness versus who-society-expects-you-to-be-ness. We notice that those depicted as being fully themselves tend to convene or live outside, amid the vividly rendered trees, mushrooms, and wild things. (Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter scenes, plus a few scripted lines, evoke the famous Kerouac quote). The evil ones with constantly unfulfilled motives, like the Red Queen, reign from indoors, surrounded by ridiculous creature comforts. The White Queen, intent on proving that she's untarnishably good, exudes a fakeness that seems embodied by her built spaces and material things.

Ultimately, the question is whether Alice will come into her own, throw off society's shackles, and set off on independent adventures and explorations, as her father did before her.

In places, the film's theme of metamorphosis to fulfill a destiny is overwrought, too literal. And, like any of Tim Burton's works, this one has moments that are plain bizarre. But credit is due to Alice for staying true to what it truly is.