LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Phoebe in Wonderland

on February 14, 2013 2:57am

Phoebe in Wonderland is a movie from 2008 about a young girl who is in love with Alice in Wonderland. Her mother, a writer, is working on a dissertation on the novel, and their house is a magical place, where Phoebe and her sister are entertained with imaginative projects. In school, Phoebe has trouble adjusting to class and her peers, because she has a bad habit of mimicking the teacher, speaking out of turn, and occasionally spitting at her classmates when they distress her. In one of the first scenes of the movie, Phoebe sits in class after class as they go over the classroom rules. It is quite obvious that she is tired of following the prescript set before her.


Suddenly, the new drama teacher shows up, and quotes Alice in Wonderland, advertising the school play. Due to Phoebe’s love for Alice’s world, she manages to find the courage to sign up for auditions. The rest of the film focuses on the preparation for the play, where Phoebe plays the part of Alice, and her anxieties about making the audition and ‘getting fired’ after being cast as the main part.

It is quite clear, early on, that something is not quite right with Phoebe. In order to quell her anxiety, she washes her hands to the point of them becoming raw, has to jump a certain number of steps on the stairs, over and over, and will perform a difficult hopping and clapping game that involves not stepping on cracks. Her parents quickly become concerned, and her behaviors seem to worsen, until her misbehavior in the classroom gets her kicked out of the play. In the end, it becomes clear that Phoebe suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome, a psychological disorder where she cannot control her compulsion to break rules, nor can she control her ritualistic actions despite the distress they cause her.

Through out the film, there are various allusions to the world on Wonderland. Phoebe often imagines the characters appearing before her, talking to her. In this manner, she attempts to derive advice from them about her life problems. The scenes of the play include direct quotes from the book, and costumes that seem fitting for the world of Wonderland. Overall, the message that is pushed, in regards to Alice in Wonderland, is the idea that it is an imaginary world with a different set of rules. It is a place where everything is essentially upside down. In this sense, the world of Alice in Wonderland seems ideal to Phoebe, who would like to be free from the omnipresent rules about what one should and should not do. She dreams of following Alice to a place where she can be free. As a result, the theatre serves as a release for her, where she can become Alice, and do as she pleases. While this movie is not a direct adaptation of the book Alice in Wonderland, it contains accurate allusions to the play, and is a heartwarming film about a unique young girl discovering a place where she feels secure in a world that seems to be against her.

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One response to “Phoebe in Wonderland

  1. Aaron Pirkkala says:

    Wow! Such a beautiful story that you’ve outlined above. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and synopsis of the movie, Phoebe in Wonderland. I’m going to make a strong effort in finding and watching the movie sometime soon (maybe even tonight). Stories and movies that involve a child’s escaping into another world, or succumbing to their imagination in order to to find a sanctuary where their minds can run free and where they can be exactly who they are without worry, is a very inspirational, emotional, and interesting concept to explore.

    As you said, Phoebe has Tourette’s Syndrome, which restrains her from controlling certain actions; and, I can only imagine just how tormenting such a condition can be to live with on a daily basis. What’s curious (and ‘curious’ is a wonderful word I think we’ve all picked up on from reading Alice in Wonderland) are the contrasts between Phoebe and Alice. Carroll’s Alice almost involuntarily ventures into the world of Wonderland, because of her curiosity to follow the rabbit down the rabbit hole. On the other hand, Phoebe already knows about the existence of the world of Wonderland, and yearns for it to be her reality; she is voluntarily seeking it.

    Furthermore, Carroll’s Alice is constantly questioning the nonsense encountered in her new world and eventually even gets sick and tired of the stupidity of Wonderland’s inhabitants, such that as we see in the court scene:
    “‘Off with her head!’ the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.
    ‘Who cares for you?’ said Alice (she had grown to her full size by this time). ‘You’re nothing but a pack of cards!'”
    Here, we see an agitated Alice who has finally had enough of the ridiculousness of the court, and finally faces up to the Queen. In contrast, Phoebe expresses a longing to be in such a world, as you have noted above:
    “Overall, the message that is pushed, in regards to Alice in Wonderland, is the idea that it is an imaginary world with a different set of rules… In this sense, the world of Alice in Wonderland seems ideal to Phoebe, who would like to be free from the omnipresent rules about what one should and should not do.”
    For Phoebe a nonsensical world without rules is ideal for her; I presume such a thought to be likewise among most children; though, perhaps even more for Phoebe, being that her condition would not be considered or viewed as ‘crazy’ or ‘misbehaving’ in a world like Wonderland. I feel for the girl very much, and it kills me to see a child–or any person–to have to deal with a health condition that minimizes the control they have over their own body.

    It is obvious the contrasts between Alice and Phoebe, but no matter the reasons one has for finding or discovering Wonderland, it holds true that Wonderland owns property in the many hearts of those who come across it, whether it be through books, movies, or other adaptations, and that the story of Alice and Wonderland will forever offer value and sanctuary for generations and generations to come.

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