Flicked Off: 'Alice in Wonderland' and Some Patriarchal Norms and Stuff


Now I’m not a huge Tim Burton stan, but I thought that Alice In Wonderland was pretty good! The strengths were exactly what you would probably think them to be: visually it was very nice to look at-the landscape design was done by Robert Stromberg, the same guy who did Avatar’s. The characters were all very charming and amiable with all of their British accents (and what not!), especially the lead girl Mia Wasikowska who was very crushable by the end. And while the plot/story seemed simple, I was okay with that because it’s supposed to be palatable for children, but also because it was really positive and uplifting and supportive of young girls being confident in themselves and believing that they can do things that they set their minds to-which seems like a good thing to convey to today’s youth. Considering these takeaways I had from the movie, you can imagine my surprise when I went on Rotten Tomatoes and saw that the movie had a composite review of 67% (coincidentally the same as Shutter Island, which I also thought was a really enjoyable movie-less of an emphasis on girl power, sure, but still fun to watch nonetheless) which seemed a little unfair.

Upon further review, after I went a little deeper down the rabbit hole (LOL, do you see what I did there?*) to find out what people’s complaints were, I learned that for the most part the reviews were all pretty positive! It seemed like most people were alright with the movie as a whole, their disappointment stemming more from the film’s performance against their expectations. Unhappiness based on what their preconceptions of what Tim Burton matched with the material of Lewis Carroll should be (which seems unfair to do, but whatever) rather than judging the film just against itself. And really, those opinions all make sense and, especially within the framework of what movie criticism is, an opinion, all fair enough. Eventually though, I came across this gem of a review by Time Out: New York’s Keith Uhlich:

Burton’s Alice is just another anachronistic feminist tearing down Victorian patriarchal norms. Even her-[shudder]-Avril Lavigne-blared theme song is a skin-deep grrrl-power accessory.

OH WORD? Now, I’m willing to accept that I might not have the highest standards for liking movies (although, to be fair, I didn’t love Avatar, so who knows!), but I’m not sure I quite agree with Mr. Keith Uhlich here (full name included again just in case his Google Alert didn’t catch it the first time) and his full review.

I mean fine, when I first saw the trailer for Alice In Wonderland I obviously thought to myself: “Oh shit! This better not be ANOTHER movie about an anachronistic feminist tearing down Victorian patriarchal norms!” Oh wait! No, I didn’t think that, because that would be an f-ing ridiculous and haughty thing to think! Has anyone ever thought that sentence before? What does it even mean?!?

What is another instance of this sort of character existing in film? That Jessica Biel movie where she’s some sort of unruly American woman who lives as she pleases is then subsequently shunned by Colin Firth and his British family? Well you know what? That’s probably not what you’re thinking of, but if it were, it wouldn’t be a good example because no one even saw that movie! It’s not even a relatable point!

So who are all of these other “anachronistic feminists” we’re talking about then? Jane Eyre? Anne Of Green Gables? Pygmalion/My Fair Lady? Well those were all written within their respective time periods so they’re not exactly “anachronistic” as it were, right? What are we really talking about then? The Fifth Element? Star Wars? Okay, fair enough, I guess those and Aladdin are all pretty applicable. Touche Uhlich. Oh wait! You added the caveat of them having to be feminists tearing down Victorian patriarchal norms! Say what? I guess you wish you hadn’t taken out the old thesaurus and then ctrl+T’d now!

I’m not quite sure what your qualm is with the Avril Lavigne theme song that isn’t in the movie at all and just used for the credits, much less what it means for something to be a “skin-deep grrrl-power accessory?” Are you trying to imply that the character of Alice somehow draws power and confidence from a song that exists outside of viewing experience of the movie? Did you see a cut of the movie that somehow had the Avril Lavigne song interposed into the movie? I guess it’s cool that you spelled the word girl with the r’s instead of like a normal person! I’m going to go out on the limb and say that your “grrl-power” spellings and use of “[shudder]” is an even more obnoxious construct than all of the exclamation points I’ve used in this review!

Now, maybe I’m being harsh on this random person who I don’t know anything else about apart from this one review that he wrote for a magazine. And truth be told, while I enjoyed Alice In Wonderland, and think that it’s worth going to see if you like nice-looking movies that have a simple story and are paced pretty well, the movie isn’t so amazing that it requires this vehement of a defense. But conversely, I don’t think that the movie is so bad that it deserves this sort of dismissive and uppity criticism that was dished out in such a haphazard and baseless way by one KEITH UHLICH. I just think everyone should maybe think about being a little nicer.

*It’s a reference to what happens in Alice In Wonderland when Alice follows a rabbit down a rabbit hole to get to Wonderland, you see.

David Cho is the publisher of The Awl, which has no financial arrangements with the Disney Company.