Alice in Wonderland Topic 3: Compare the caterpillar scene in the book with its representation in one of the films (Disney).


Throughout the myriad of dramatic adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s novella Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1872), the caterpillar, and his place in the story, has become one of the most recognizable and frequently imitated aspects of the tale. Walt Disney brought its version of Carroll’s story to the silver screen in 1951 in its animated film Alice in Wonderland. With its expertise in animation Disney was able to take Carroll’s narrative to the level of the fantastic that the author had envisioned when composing Alice. Within the confines of the scene between Alice and the Caterpillar, Disney did much to keep close to the text and images of the interaction inside the book. Although the outline of the caterpillar scene is in line with Carroll’s work, Disney did make some alterations for two main reasons. The first motive is that these changes enabled them to create some witticisms on the flexibility of the English language. The second reason for the changes is that Disney feels a need to explain the Caterpillar’s reasoning for the offers of advice even though he is extremely cynical and rude to Alice throughout the majority of the interaction.
In comparing the Disney film to Carroll’s story, one must start with the striking similarities between the two. First, the illustration of Alice’s meeting with the Caterpillar that is situated at the beginning of Chapter 5, “Advice from a Caterpillar,” appears to be the model for Disney’s animators in creating the film version of the scene. The Caterpillar’s shape and size is almost identical along with the mushroom on which he perches and the long hookah from which he smokes. Disney even takes Carroll’s description of the Caterpillar’s voice to heart, “the Caterpillar…addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice” (27). Disney’s Caterpillar not only speaks in a “languid, sleepy voice,” but it also displays a set of heavy eyes.
Lewis Carroll, a mathematician, was of the belief that language was nonsensical and was something simply to be played with. Throughout Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland the author plays games with words and their meanings through poems and exchanges between characters. Disney creates one of these games with the English language by using the Caterpillar’s exhaled smoke. For starters, Alice is led to the Caterpillar by the sound of the Caterpillar singing “A-E-I-O-U” with a trail of smoke clouds in the form of the vowels themselves. Once the Caterpillar notices Alice, the same conversation that Carroll instituted begins with the Caterpillar asking “who are you?” with puffs of smoke in the forms of “O-R-U.” The use of smoke as visual puns continues throughout the entire scene with letters and pictures as representatives for words. Words such as are, you, see, and why are represented by their letter-homonym counterpart. Words are also represented through pictures as symbols, the word “not” is symbolized by the smoke form of a “knot” and “why” was symbolized by a question mark. These symbolic interpretations of the Caterpillar’s words are continually used in order to overcome the lack of ability to play with words like Carroll was able to within the text.
In both the text and the film, the Caterpillar asks Alice to recite a little story, but that is where the similarity between the two versions ends. The novella sees the Caterpillar request Alice to “Repeat ‘You are old, Father William,” (28) to which she faithfully obliges. Alice recites the entire limerick and its finish is met by the Caterpillar’s response that she recited it incorrectly from beginning to end. In contrast, the Disney film finds the Caterpillar simply commanding Alice to “recite.” From this Alice begins to narrate “How doth the little busy bee,” which brings upon an immediate interruption by the Caterpillar. He tells her how wrong she is and begins to recite, “How doth the little crocodile.”
The stories that are recited in the film and the book appear in completely different scenes of the opposite version. “You are old, Father William,” recited by Alice in the novella, is recited by Tweedledum and Tweedledee in an earlier scene of the film version. On the other hand, “How doth the little crocodile,” recited by the Caterpillar in the film,