Though we live in a society where women are granted and assumed to be the equals of men, somehow that notion still hasn’t caught on in Hollywood. Most of our glass ceilings have long since been shattered except in our movies where, let’s face it, women are usually second class citizens. Sure in our films strong female characters exist, but more often than not they only exist in the service of procreation or in the bettering of men. Sandra Bullock has an Oscar nomination for playing just such a character in The Blind Side: a strong, confident woman in a movie about how she made a man become a better football player. Or there’s Carey Mulligan nominated for her work in An Education, where she plays a young girl who chooses love over higher education. It’s only when it doesn’t work out for her that she picks up a book and decides to plan a life. On screen, independent women are all too often only something that happens when they can’t get pregnant. Or at least that’s the explanation offered for Meryl Streep’s strong-willed Julia in Julie & Julia.

Movies about women who choose to think for themselves rather than accept their pre-determined societal roles exist, but these films are rarely accessible, especially to younger audiences. Instead your daughter probably spends her time idolizing Disney’s princesses, most of whom exist solely to service love. It’s a great way to teach your kid to put on makeup, but if you’re hoping for offspring with substance her options for real, feminist role models in entertainment are pretty sparse. I’m not suggesting you raise a daughter who doesn’t shave her arm pits, but perhaps just once in awhile, a little balance is order.

This weekend you’ll have the chance to tip the scales back towards independent women by taking your family, and most importantly your daughter, to see Alice in Wonderland. It’s far from a great film, but it does something no other family movie has done in far, far too long by treating women as other than baby makers and potential girlfriends. Tim Burton’s Wonderland is a female dominated world. In another movie, they’d be content to have a woman as the bad guy. In movies, women in power often end up like the Red Queen: vain, petty, heartless things obsessed with their own egos. Except here she’s balanced by Anne Hathaway’s delightful performance as the Red Queen’s opposite and equal, the kindhearted and wise White Queen who inspires loyalty with a strange combination of graceful, timid femininity and fierce, unwavering determination. But most of all, there’s Alice.

Alice’s character arc sets her on a path where she must make a choice. It’s the same choice that Carey Mulligan made incorrectly in An Education really, but for Alice it’s even harder. In the real world it’s Victorian England, an era where women were expected to wear pretty dresses and get married when and where they were told. Wonderland only happens because Alice is at a crossroads. She falls down the rabbit hole right at the moment she’s about to decide whether to fit in, play the subservient woman, or stand up and think for herself. Even before she falls we know this is not a woman who would be content with the status quo. Alice thinks and speaks for herself. She believes in six impossible things before breakfast. But she’s a woman, and that means she should sit down and shut up, doesn’t it?

Inside Wonderland something magical happens to Alice and I’m not talking about smoking out with the Blue Caterpillar. The Mad Hatter calls it rediscovering her muchness, but it’s really about finding the courage to be the person she truly wants to be, society be damned. Inside Wonderland Alice consistently, even at her lowest of lows, stands up for herself and refuses to give in. Sometimes what’s happening doesn’t make sense, but she’s a consistently strong character who is on a path to realizing the courage she needs to exercise the strength that’s already inside her. And at the end of the film when she straps on a suit of armor and goes into battle, it’s not to protect a bunch of babies or to fight her way to the perfect man. It’s not even really to defend her friends. Alice fights for herself, for the freedom to be who she is. Once back in the real world, her muchness rediscovered, that’s exactly who she is. Absolutely Alice.

What’s really great about Alice is that she does all of that while hanging on to those princess trappings your daughter surely loves. This isn’t Angelina Jolie wearing cargo pants and shooting things with guns; that’s primarily a male fantasy, not a female one. Burton’s Wonderland imagines from a female perspective. Alice stays distinctly female in both mannerism and appearance as she rushes about changing outfits over and over as she grows and shrinks in a way that’s sure to delight any girl who’s just been swapping outfits on her Barbie. Her hair hangs long, flowing, gold locks even when it’s utterly unpractical; such as when wielding a Vorpal blade in a suit of armor. Alice is, in a sense, the first truly feminist Disney princess and your kids are sure to latch on not only to the character, but her wholly positive message, without even knowing it.

Yet it’s not all message here. What Alice really is, is the ultimate father daughter movie. It’s packed with eye-popping effects and Tim Burton’s all too nearly over the top tendency towards the macabre, along with the pefect girly stuff to hook in your kid. Dad’s will dig Alice’s fight with the Jabberwocky and the movie’s trippy 3D and in the process, feel good about taking your daughter to something which won’t cause her to marry some convenience store asshole with a Camaro. Tim Burton knew what he was doing here, from the movie’s poppy, tween Avril Lavigne credits song to its ribald sense of humor. Sometimes it’s clumsy, sometimes it’s silly, and because of that Alice in Wonderland isn’t a great movie, merely good. But it is a great father daughter just sitting out there, waiting to happen. Don’t let your daughter grow up without Alice in Wonderland. Things being what they are in Hollywood, there may never be another movie like it.
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