“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is. Everything would be what it isn't. What it is, it wouldn't be, and what it wouldn't be it would.” And, it's with this bit of circular illogic that lets us off the hook. Alice in Wonderland doesn't have to, need to or want to make sense because it's just a dream – a “Wonderland” a little girl creates as a bit of escapism while being bored to death by her sister's history lesson on the Norman conquest of England. But, what if there is a moral to this disjointed, topsy-turvy mess of a story? Perhaps, we need not look further than the parallels betwixt the fabled story within the story of The Walrus and the Carpenter and, of course, Alice's own misadventures.
Sure, everyone remembers the mongoloid-esque, identical twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum but do they recall the dark and ominous fable of The Walrus and the Carpenter (or The Story of the Curious Oysters) they recount to Alice? The story opens with the two associates partaking in a midnight stroll on the beach and, while the Carpenter has visions of clearing the beach of its sand, the work averse Walrus has his mind on other pressing matters like “cabbages and kings.” It's then that the Carpenter spies a bed of oysters just off the rocky shore. The Walrus immediately submerges himself into the sea and invites the young oysters on a little walk-a-bout but mother oyster knows better and strongly advises against this since it's the month of March (as we all know, oysters should only be eaten in months containing the letter “R!”). Not to be thwarted, the Walrus makes like the Pied Piper and leads the baby oysters from the sea to realize their destiny as “cabbages and kings.” Of course, this little story ends with the Walrus gobbling down every last one of his new friends sharing nary a one with his pal the Carpenter who becomes understandably irate and chases the oyster shuckin’ charlatan with his hammer - The End. And, what's the moral to this story? “A good moral,” says Alice... “if you're an oyster.”
Just as the oysters became victims of their own curiosity, so did Alice. The young girl couldn't leave well enough alone when she spied an anthropomorphic rabbit scurrying through the peaceful, English countryside and down a rabbit hole – she just had to chase him. Appropriately enough, the White Rabbit becomes Alice's proverbial “White Whale” as she encounters all sorts of “hare” raising (pun INTENDED!) adventures in her quest to track him down - but to what end and why? She was just bored and there's nothing more exciting than a walking, talking rabbit carrying on about being “late for a very important date.” Perhaps, if her sister had a livelier lesson planned, this whole episode could have been avoided. But, alas, like most pursuits involving a White Whale/Rabbit she reaches her inevitable breaking point at the Mad Tea Party where the ridiculousness of it all becomes overwhelmingly MADDENING and reduces poor Alice to tears, wishing only to leave her self-created “Wonderland” where “everything would be nonsense” to return home. Unfortunately, her trek home would lead her to the tyrannical Queen of Hearts where, incidentally, she would finally catch up with the White Rabbit and learn where he was hurrying off to (he's the Queen's herald!). But, at this point, it was beside the point as, much like the oysters, she found herself in actual danger as the Queen was hell bent on chopping off her head! So, Alice was wrong, the moral to the Walrus and the Carpenter need not only apply to oysters it applies to everyone: in lieu of curiosity – STAY HOME!
Of course, that’s not the moral to the story (although, those who know me know I wish it was!). As Alice learns, sometimes dreams get too big and we get hopelessly lost and confused in the chaos of it all. I'd like to have uncovered some hidden meaning to it all but sometimes nonsense is just nonsense... nothing more, nothing less. Just because Alice in Wonderland is one of the more culturally significant stories Disney has ever adapted, doesn’t mean there’s some sort of well-articulated and/or profound message to be gleaned from it. At times, it’s nice to take a break from the constructs of order and meaning to instead bask in the unadulterated absurdity and wackiness of a good dream. Or, better yet, live out our lives as… “cabbages and kings!”
On a more whimsical note... EVERYTHING!!!
Are the Walrus and the Carpenter modeled after the famous comedy duo Laurel and Hardy?
Two of my personal favourite yet lesser known characters are the blowhardy Foghorn Leghorn-esque Pat the Dodo and the Cockney chimney sweep Bill the Lizard.
Who is Mary Ann and why does the White Rabbit think she's Alice?
On the way to his “very important date,” the White Rabbit stops at home to change into his royal garb, pick up his trumpet and order around Mary Ann (Alice) to find his gloves.
There are five rabbits in the family portrait hanging in the White Rabbit's stairwell – a father (doesn't look like the White Rabbit), a mother and three bunnies.
Much like Pinocchio (1940), Alice in Wonderland features a variety of smokers: Pat the Dodo with a pipe, the Walrus with a cigar and the Caterpillar with a hookah.
Of all the frustrating and annoying characters Alice meets, the Cheshire Cat proves to be the most helpful – he points Alice in the direction of the Mad Hatter and then opens up the tree door to the Queen's castle. Then again, he also frames Alice which results in the Queen threatening to take her head.
The phrase “Grinning like a Cheshire Cat” comes from Chesire being home to so many dairy farms which result in an abundance of milk and cream.
With the Caterpillar's hookah and the Mad Tea Party's decor of Japanese Lanterns, Wonderland has a bit of an Eastern flair.
You might recognize the voice and likeness of the Mad Hatter as Ed Wynn who plays Uncle Albert from Mary Poppins.
Why does smothering jam on the dormouse's nose calm him down? Speaking of which, he might be the most troubled and disturbed of all the creatures Alice meets.
The Mad Hatter asks “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” Because both contributed to Edgar Allen Poe's success?
The phrase from which the Mad Hatter gets his name: “As mad as a hatter,” derives from the mercury poisoning that often afflicted hatters.
The Broom Dog Alice encounters in Tulgey Wood looks a lot like Mickey Mouse's dog Pluto.
What exactly was the “Very important date” the White Rabbit was late for? I'm guessing it was his shift as the Queen of Hearts herald.
In a deck of cards, the King of Hearts is thought to represent Charlemagne – I have no idea who the real life counterpart is for the Queen though. If you're curious, the King of Diamonds is Julius Caesar, Spades is King David and Clubs is Alexander the Great.
Despite the fact there isn't one transcendent or breakthrough tune, Alice in Wonderland boasts the greatest number of songs in any Disney Animated movie.
Even though Alice in Wonderland was one of Disney's least commercially and critically successful movies to date, it enjoyed new found popularity and reached cult status during the psychedelic 60s.
We love Disney. Period.