When moviegoers see Alice Through the Looking Glass this weekend, they will be transported back to Underland on a race against Time to save the Mad Hatter. But what many might miss is the powerful message about feminism sprinkled throughout the plot. Alice, played by Mia Wasikowska, sums up Alice at the beginning of the film. "She's been traveling around the world for the last two years and she's the captain of her own ship. Expectations of her are really low when she returns to England and she's able to hold onto that sense of who she is."
Director James Bobbin, who grew up reading the Lewis Carroll Wonderland books, redirects these themes back to the author. "For me, this all comes from Carroll himself. If you read the books, Alice is intelligent, brave, strong, fearful. Alice was a real girl, Alice Liddell. Carroll wrote Alice for her and about her and I think he sort of saw in her an eight-year-old girl as we all know them to be. And particularly for girls in that time, as they grew older society sort of fell on them. They made them make choices that they didn't necessarily want to make. I feel like that's why this story has lasted so long, because it's so recognizable. And especially about Alice Liddell, she was born in 1852 and Emmeline Pankhurst, who founded the suffragette movement in London, was born in 1858. So Alice is part of the same generation that in the 1910's got women the right to vote. The real Alice generation was the one that said 'Things need to change, this isn't the way it's always going to be and we're going to make it different.' And that's an amazing thing that Alice was part of that generation. And maybe Lewis Carroll had a sort of subconscious sense of that. The world was changing."
Bringing it back to problems that modern women face, Hollywood has a long way to go to become equal. Women still don't have equal pay in virtually all industries and it seems that blockbuster films offer endless opportunities for men, but very few for actresses. "I guess it's an anomaly to have a big summer blockbuster that has a female lead," explains Wasikowska. "It's strange that that's unusual. Hopefully that will become more normal."
For Anne Hathaway, the film's messages become extremely powerful during one poignant scene in particular. "I saw the film three weeks ago and there was one scene that I was surprised to find myself really crying during. It's the scene where Alice wakes up and she finds herself in a mental institution. The reasons the she was committed were that she was excitable and imaginative and they said 'Typical female hysteria.' And they tried to inject her with a drug to dull her, to make her less evocative, to make her less herself and more controllable. And she fights back, she turns it around and she winds up injecting him with it. I'm bursting with pride to be a part of a movie that is taking the narrative back."
Alice Through the Looking Glass offers just as much adventure as the first film, but perhaps even more action. "This character is not a super hero," explains Bobbin. "She's a girl with brains who has intelligent thoughts. When you watch the sequences, I was very keen to make sure that Alice struggles to do these things. She's a sea captain, she's a real person so she can climb a rigging, but it's not easy. She can jump from hands of a clock, but she falls over, it's not easy." His goal throughout the entire film was to make Alice feel as real as possible. "I didn't want to make her feel too confident because she wouldn't be. You're confident because you're brave, you're strong, you're determined. So that was the basis for the action."
Another issue women face in Hollywood is the lack of roles once actresses reach a certain age. Anne Hathaway hopes this film is a step in the right direction to changing that, especially given that the biggest theme is time and how precious it truly is. "I invite all of us to stop the narrative of saying women lose power as they get older. I don't feel like it's happening as I get older. I'm becoming way more powerful as I get older and I'm tired of myself feeling the opposite. I can't do it alone, so it's going to take everybody to stop using that language and take the narrative back the way Alice does."
The film's producer, Suzanne Todd, shares Mia and Annes passion for the project. "I think we're all really happy that we get to be a part of this conversation. As Mia said, to be talking about a big summer movie and also be talking about female empowerment is a step towards change."
Disney has always been a very progressive company, so it comes as little surprise that one of their biggest films of 2016 carries such deep, forward-thinking themes. "I'm really proud to work with a company like Disney who's really looking at who it has been and whether or not it wants to continue being that," explains Hathaway, who became a household name after the success of Disney's The Princess Diaries. "They're looking at the stories that have gone out into the world and have the courage to revise them based on what we know and how we've evolved." No matter how much time goes by, a Disney classic will always be an iconic treasure for all generations to love. Disney's history with Lewis Caroll's Wonderland characters dates back to even before 1923 and it's great to see the company continue that legacy with Alice Through the Looking Glass.