Back when the short-lived Wonderland musical was workshopping / previewing in Tampa, I had a chance to see one of those early versions. I’m told the show changed sizably in the meantime (though, of course, not enough to last long on Broadway).
In the version I saw, however, the Alice character has been going through this identity crisis as she tries to find her daughter, Chloe. In the climax of the show, she answers the repeated question she’s been facing: who are you? by finally crying out, “I’m Chloe’s mother!”
I cringed visibly, and spent the rest of the denoument of that show waiting to run away. I never saw it again, or even listened to the cast album. I believe that particular moment was excised in a later draft, and I can’t say I’d miss it.
Fast forward to the promos for the Once Upon a Time spinoff, titled with the original Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. This time Alice isn’t after a daughter, mind you, but rather her long lost lover. And I, once again, am cringing.
Look, when you’re retelling the story of Snow White and Prince Charming, then sure, I expect you to be playing on the tropes of romance. When you’re retelling the story of a girl who falls into chaos, and rather determinedly decides she’s going to sort her way through everything no matter how much more insane things become with each passing second, however, why the hell does your retelling have to require her to be defined by someone else? Why is this necessary?
I like a good romantic story as much as the next person. I also think that parents are important and need celebrating. I just get a little tired of people who seem to think that the only ways to make a strong, female lead’s story compelling boil down to the Mother Lion motif or the Fighting For Love model.
The promos seem to indicate Alice starts in an asylum, where a bunch of old men sit around telling her how the world works, until she decides to start fighting back and defining the world for herself. Why can’t you tell the story of an Alice who tells the stodgy old men to go to hell, kicks ass, and takes names because she’s kick-ass, and not because she’s wrapped up in someone else?