Wonderland and The Spirit World

Films and literature have a complex and ever-changing relationship. In modern day, it is common for a popular work to be translated into a movie/television series/book/etc. In literature and cinema, there is often a reoccurring idea of revision and interpretation. Whether it be a movie or a novel, it is inevitable for a work to not be recycled into something new, or re-vamped. This idea is extremely controversial. When misinterpreted, appropriation is likely. On the other-hand, if the interpretation matches, or even surpasses the original, the audience might favor the new work. This idea is evident in the different movie interpretations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

When imagining Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it is likely that you visualize the images of Disney’s 1951 animated film, or the 2010 live action film, both under the title of Alice in Wonderland. Although these portrayals have some major alterations from Carroll’s work, the general storyline and characters remain similar. Although these are the most popular interpretations, it is wrong to assume that there aren’t other works that draw inspiration from Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland.

In 2001, Studio Ghibli released the Academy Award winning, Spirited Away, both written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki.  The film centers around a 10-year-old girl, named Chihiro. While moving to their new home, Chihiro’s parents take the wrong turn, and accidentally enter the spirit world. The plot thickens as she realizes that she is trapped in the spirit world, and that her parents have turned into pigs. Chihiro is forced to work in a magical bath-house filled with various creatures and spirits, while also trying to get her parents back.

Despite being exposed as a child, to both Alice in Wonderland (1951), and Spirited Away (2001), it wasn’t until recently that I made the connection between both works. Like Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, this film explores themes relating to youth, identity, exploration, freedom and confinement, the absurd, etc. This is evident through the protagonists of each story.

Both Alice and Chihiro are young, naive children, who are discontent with their life. As they enter their magical worlds, they are forced to confront their identity as well as the idea of a general loss of innocence. The theme of identity is referred to in chapter 5 of Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland, as Alice is talking to the caterpillar. During this conversation, he continuously questions her identity. This type of interaction occurs throughout the text. In Spirited Away, Chihiro’s name is taken from her after signing a contract with the witch, Yubaba, who runs the bathhouse. Without the knowledge of her own identity, it would be impossible to leave the spirit world. The theme of identity is also present with other characters in the film such as the mysterious”No-Face,” and Haku, who forgets his name.

The theme of youth, is also evident through Alice and Chihiro. In the beginning of both works, the characters are portrayed as ‘bratty’ and ‘naive’. The characters are forced to take responsibility, and develop throughout their stories. Both Alice and Chihiro are discriminated and disliked throughout each work because they are human children. The adults in both works are also portrayed in negative ways, furthering this idea of the idealization of youth. For example, The Red Queen in Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland, is portrayed as immature and vacuous. In Spirited Away, Chihiro’s parents are portrayed similarly (This is evident when they turn into pigs).

It is important to note that each work doesn’t necessarily portray a ‘coming of age’ story, rather a work that embraces and encourages youth. When talking about the film, Miazaki even states, “I created a heroine who is an ordinary girl, someone with whom the audience can sympathize. It’s not a story in which the characters grow up, but a story in which they draw on something already inside them, brought out by the particular circumstances. I want my young friends to live like that, and I think they, too, have such a wish.”

Despite having numerous similarities, it is impossible to ignore the obvious difference of time period (Victorian Era vs. Modern Japan). In addition, there is a difference in characterization. Compared to Alice, Chihiro has a distinct, strong personality, and a significant character development. Although this is the case, it is vital to remember that Carroll’s work was created in a time in which women were considered lesser.

Although Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland had a major impact on a variety of works, Spirited Away is a movie that is relatable to a modern day audience. The film maintains similar themes, but also by alters setting and characters. Although the film isn’t a direct adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, arguably is the best film representation of Carroll’s ideas, in the most refined, creative manner.

One Reply to “Wonderland and The Spirit World”

  1. I saw the title of this article was desperately hoping it was going to compare Wonderland to the Spiritworld of Avatar the Last Airbender. I was severely disappointed

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.