Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Disney Alice Through the Looking Glass

Kari Sutherland & Linda Woolverton
Disney Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

I'm going to work with the assumption that this is a novel about a woman named Disney Alice, that being how her name appears on the cover and title page. I refuse to acknowledge Disney as referring to an author or authors because it would be undignified, given how the name of Lewis Carroll appears only once as small print, a creator credit, as though he were just one of the team, because Disney Alice Through the Looking Glass definitely wasn't written by Carroll. Its authorial heritage in full is given as adapted by Kari Sutherland, based on the screenplay by Linda Woolverton, based on characters created by Lewis Carroll, produced by Joe Roth, Suzanne Todd, Jennifer Todd, Tim Burton, and directed by James Bobin. The corporate efficiency of the list presents a stark contrast to the appearance of the book, a lavishly bound hardback with a colour plate on the cover and wonky pages of hand-knitted paper cut to uneven sizes. It's a real quality product, and I'm willing to bet that each copy was individually hand-crafted by authentic crofters living on the Arran Islands - which is over there in Englishland, which you probably didn't know; and it's been brought to us by the Disney Press - not Disney Books or Disney Publishing, but the Disney Press. I expect their head office is the stone hut next to the one with the artisan crofting craftsmen who didst forge the tome by the very sweat of their honest brows.

To get to the point, this isn't Through the Looking Glass, Carroll's sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, as is probably obvious. Through the Looking Glass opens with Alice, who I would guess to be about eight, possibly younger, playing with her kittens in front of the fireplace in view of a large mirror through which she will soon travel. By contrast, here we meet Disney Alice as an adult, the feisty captain of a sailing ship returning to port from a series of adventures, and despite having been the presumably successful captain of her own ship for three years, returning home she is preoccupied with thoughts of her father and whether he will at last give her the blessing of his approval, because he's one of those bad dads who never said anything nice about us when we were young, which is why we now require analysts.

Where Through the Looking Glass is a beautifully-crafted nonsense tale based on the game of chess, this thing simply employs some of the same characters, additionally drafting in half the cast of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to tell an entirely different story; and familiar persons such as the Mad Hatter and Cheshire cat are given full names, families, motivation, resumes, and history. In this story, the Mad Hatter becomes a boring old square, thus significantly reducing his appeal. Something has turned him into a man with opinions about income tax and who no longer dreams crazy, magical dreams full of magic and wonderment. Alice therefore travels back in time to change the past so as to restore the Mad Hatter to his former magical state of magic, wonderment and crazy imagination. When I first read that Alice travels back in time to change the past, I assumed the reviewer was taking the piss, but no - that really is what happens, because they've invented a completely new kind of story.

I'm being sarcastic.

Anyway, we learn how the Mad Hatter's father once made some dismissive remark criticising the quality of a hat the boy had made at school and brought home hoping to impress his dear old dad. 'That's fucking shit,' the busy, working man observed whilst nevertheless holding down a job so as to put food in the mouths of his family and maintain the roof over their heads, which traumatised the junior Mad Hatter. To be fair, the hat he made at school sounds rubbish to me as well, but there's a lot to be blamed on shitty parenting in this book. The Red Queen for example is a bit of a cunt, but this is due to a bollocking from her parents, a bollocking resulting from her once having been charged with the spillage of some crumbs and a pie crust, which was actually her sister's doing. Apparently that's quite similar to how Hitler got started.

I haven't seen the movie, but I'm guessing this book more or less faithfully recreates both the story and the sense of constant motion, people falling out of the sky and catching a stray yardarm just in time, just like in a game, all in relentlessly screaming 3D for a couple of hours. The proto-Dadaist nonsense of Carroll's creation is implied with the usual blend of dollar store steampunk bollocks and low-calorie corporate surrealism with shitloads of cogs all over the shop, the sort of thing you will immediately recognise from whenever you last saw a commercial for anything remotely related to Christmas, this sort of deal:

He picked up a floral teapot—one of many on the table—and poured some tea into Time's cup.

'If you're really Time itself, or himself, or whatever you are, perhaps you can answer me this,' Hatter blathered on as he served their guest. 'I've always wondered when soon is.' He set down the teapot only to snatch up a plate of scones and shove it into Time's face. 'Is it before in a few minutes or after a little while?'

See, that's not actually the brain-wrecking psychedelic conundrum it seems to believe itself to be so much as just a fucking stupid question. Millions of years ago when I was at school, someone brought in their copy of Blondie's Parallel Lines album. A kid we knew as Trev - although that wasn't actually his name - got hold of it and was reading the back cover.

'Look at this,' he chortled, eyes wide, mind about ready to blow. He held up the record sleeve for us to see and pointed to the title of a song - I Know But I Don't Know, because for poor Trev that was the full Syd Barrett meeting André Breton at the Château de Lacoste; and most of Disney Alice Through the Looking Glass stays at more or less the same safe level of crossword puzzle surrealism. There will be no minds blown today, is the promise, just good value entertainment.

Elsewhere in the chamber, the Tweedles were also hugging.

'Let's never fight again,' Tweedledum said.

'Were we fighting before?' Tweedledee asked. He stared at his brother in puzzlement.

'No, so why start now?' Tweedledum said.

Gazing across the room, Alice watched her friends reunite with their families. Everyone seemed so happy, all their former fights—big and small—swept away. With a pang, she thought of her mother, wishing she were there to hold her close. The world had nearly ended, and Alice and her mother had not parted on good terms.

The formerly evil Red Queen is revealed as simply being in a lot of pain over the crumbs and a pie crust incident. She's really quite nice once you get to know her. Everyone makes friends, and we all learn a lesson about the importance of family. Alice's family have attempted to have her committed at one point, but it was just a misunderstanding or summink, because fambly. Alice has spent much of the book bemoaning the stifling influence of family, sexism, the glass ceiling, forces which would keep her from having adventures or spontaneous displays of imagination because she's just a girl or because she should maybe grow the fuck up, but nothing is as important as fambly. So the book or the film or whatever the fuck it is spends a couple of hours blasting us with messages about the madcap importance of breaking free, of wondrous imagination and magic and daring to dream and being a little bit crazy even if it means people think you're a bit weird; then it does an about face and tells us family is more important than anything, even if they've had you committed to a loony bin, even if they've dedicated their lives to shitting on your dreams. It's good to dream and to experience wonderment and to be like totally zany and shit, but only if you have your feet on the ground, if you show some responsibility, only if you honour your family; but in your own time - no pressure or anything.

Personally I don't believe in conspiracy theories, including the one about a corporate cabal of neofeudalist robber barons for whom capitalist society is one big chess game arranged so as to keep us docile and economically productive from behind the scenes, and that's because I don't believe those on the upper balconies have the intelligence or resources to organise such a thing or to keep it running. On the other hand, I do tend to believe that something which very much has the appearance of the same is in charge, roughly speaking, even if its organising principle is an unconscious process rather than a group of individuals. Corporations seem as much subject to Darwinian laws as any of us, so it may be helpful to regard them as organisms inhabiting a financial and political realm, their success determined by what they can get away with, how freely they are able to act and to establish themselves as intrinsic to the society they inhabit. So in other words, this probably wasn't even a conscious act, but there is a limit to the ways in which the machine expresses itself. There is a limit to what it is able to say.

The aspect of Disney Alice Through the Looking Glass which I dislike the most is the arrogance of the idea that an entertainment committee can improve on Lewis Carroll's original. It represents not an empowering fountain of imagination, but an attempt to colonise the same. It's a hostile commodification of superior art to which the company itself can only aspire, something it could never create because there is a limit to what it is able to say. It is designed to keep you dumb, insecure, and reliant upon its own product. It triggers all the familiar entertainment synapses - so thanks a fucking bunch for that, Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, Stephen Moffat, Spielberg, Tim Burton, and all you other peddlers of twee content-free wonderment. It's a proven seller, and a light sprinkling of generic unwanted-child angst gives us that warm feeling of value for money, just like the book packaged so as to pretend it wasn't made by robots, or if it was, at least they're zany steampunk robots.

So no, I didn't enjoy it very much.

No comments:

Post a Comment