Remember a time when anything was possible. When you didn’t have to think seriously about careers or money ‘-‘ only what adventures the day held. Lost in the world of Never Never Land or happily ever after, as children we were free to imagine a different world. Then, one day ‘- triggered by an event or a parental conversation ‘- we slowly began to give up this childhood fantasy and focus on understanding the real world. ‘Phoebe in Wonderland’ is about a child’s involuntary pull into this reality, through the eyes of nine-year old Phoebe Lichten (Elle Fanning). ‘ ‘ ‘
Adolescence may be the most awkward period in one’s life. We are forced to learn the rules of an adult world that we’re excluded from until a certain age. Children are initiated in all the conventions we take for granted in adulthood ‘- etiquette, daily routines and social expectation. A certain amount of anxiety occurs during this transition. Incorporating aspects of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ ‘- a misbehaving child, unclear rules/expectations, fear of authority and confusion ‘- writer/director Daniel Barnz does a wonderful job of showing the angst felt in a young girl’s search for not only understanding in the real world, but for ‘hope.’
Elle Fanning delivers a phenomenal portrayal of the disillusionment and fear that comes when a child’s safe, imaginary universe is shattered by a world where nothing makes sense. Deviating from the inspired fairytale, it is Phoebe’s real existence that causes bewilderment. As a coming-of-age tale, she and her parents (Felicity Huffman and Bill Pullman) must discover the reasons behind Phoebe’s inability to behave properly and why she is compelled, much like Alice, to act out against standard social conventions.
However, the film does not simply offer a fairytale conclusion. It questions our assumptions and rules regarding the adult world and a child’s treatment during this transition. Patricia Clarkson, Phoebe’s drama teacher, complicates the coming-of-age story by asserting a constant need for childhood imagination. Yet, can this type of imagination survive in our society beyond the confines of a film? The audience is left to decide.