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Frank Beddor
John Drain
June 14, 2024

10 Best “Alice in Wonderland” References in “The Simpsons”

It’s been said often, and a lot on this site, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderlandis a titan of pop culture. It has left an indelible mark on our language, art, music, and more. So it’s no surprise that Alice and the denizens of Wonderland have been frequently referenced in another piece of pop culture royalty, The Simpsons. For thirty-five (no, that’s not a typo) seasons, Springfield’s first family has been a cornerstone of comedy. The show often features heart-warming explorations of family conflict and brilliant character work, providing the foundation for a rapid-fire succession of pinpoint pop culture references, gentle satire of American life, and delightful silliness. The writers also seem to have some form of clairvoyance, with the show becoming well-known for foreshadowing a variety of future events, including video chat, the Fox-Disney sale, and a certain angry orange-tinted man becoming president.

Much like Alice, The Simpsons isn’t just part of culture, it is culture. It was a phenomenon upon its release. It redefined what was previously thought possible to achieve in its format. The show gave birth to numerous spin-offs including comic books, video games, theme park rides, and a Golden Globe-nominated film. Its influence is felt in language, internet culture, and how we think about the world. The Simpsons and one of the Alice adaptations even share a composer. Legendary composer Danny Elfman created the iconic Simpsons theme song as well as the score for Tim Burton’s two Alice in Wonderland films. Three stars of the Burton Wonderverse have also visited Springfield – Sacha Baron Cohen, Stephen Fry, and Anne Hathaway, who apparently had such a great time she guest-starred in three episodes.

These two masterpieces of Western art have also shared the stage directly. The Simpsons’ penchant for copious pop culture references and Alice’s societal ubiquity has resulted in a litany of allusions to Wonderland. Here are ten of our favorites:

10. Lisa Down the Rabbit Hole

A classic Alice in Wonderland reference comes in at number ten. The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horrorepisodes are almost as iconic as the show itself. For “Treehouse of Horror XXIV”, part of season twenty-five, Guillermo del Toro took the helm of the opening. Del Toro packs an almost overwhelming amount of horror and sci-fi references in his three-minute segment including Alfred Hitchcock, The Shining, and Mr. Burns as the Pale Man from Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.

The opening follows the Simpson brood as they fight and flee a never-ending wave of horror and sci-fi monsters until they reach the safety of their trusty couch. Or so it seems. Suddenly, Lisa falls through a hole in the couch. Clad in a blue and white dress, she falls past tea sets, a clock, and playing cards before landing on a mushroom. Alice falling down the rabbit hole is a common reference and it is the last thing the audience suspects when the Simpson family sits on the couch. Its use does seemingly emphasize darker interpretations of Alice in Wonderland, aligning Lewis Carroll’s novel with iconic horror franchises. It’s also important to note that Lisa shares a lot of similarities with Alice, a young girl trying to find herself in an often topsy-turvy and infuriating world.

9. “We’re Through the Looking Glass Here, People”

Milhouse Mussolini Van Houten, Bart’s hapless sidekick, is one of The Simpsons writers’ favorite punching bags. He’s run over by a train, has the skin polished off his head, gets dropped by his psychiatrist for being too annoying, finds himself on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, and when Bart is asked why he and Milhouse are friends, Bart response is “geographical convenience”. Ouch. However, the writers have given Milhouse some classic lines, like in the wonderfully titled “Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy”.

The children of Springfield get suspicious when their parents suddenly start going to bed early. Bart convenes an emergency meeting in his treehouse and the kids come up with a theory. Milhouse explains how the RAND Corporation, the saucer people, and the reverse vampires have conspired to force their parents to go to bed early in a plot to eliminate dinner. Milhouse finishes his summation with the declaration, “We’re through the looking glass here, people.” The expression is used when someone finds themselves in a bizarre situation and it’s utilized perfectly here. Unfortunately for Milhouse and Co., their grand theory is completely wrong. It turns out the parents of Springfield have collectively rediscovered their mojos after drinking a libidinous toxic concocted by Grampa Simpson.

Still image from "The Simpsons" season 6 episode "Lisa's Wedding" featuring Chief Wiggum in front of a tent with the marquee "Friar Wiggum's Fantastical Beastarium".

8. Lisa Down the Rabbit Hole…Again

Guillermo del Toro wasn’t the first to throw Lisa Simpson down a rabbit hole. That distinction belongs to Simpsons maven and King of the Hill and The Office creator Greg Daniels, writer of the season six classic “Lisa’s Wedding”. The episode opens with the Simpsons at a Renaissance fair where Lisa wanders off after being embarrassed by Homer. She enters Friar Wiggum’s Fantastical Beastarium where she encounters the mythical Esquilax, which is just a rabbit. The rabbit runs off and Lisa follows it, a la Alice and the White Rabbit. The rabbit leads her to a fortune teller where she is told the story of her first love. Alice following the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole signifies a character following their curiosity and being thrust into a strange land. For Lisa, that curiosity leads her to 2010, where, as a college student, she falls in love with the posh and arrogant Hugh Parkfield. They soon get engaged and travel to Springfield for the wedding where Hugh insults her family due to their boorish ways. Lisa realizes how deeply she loves her family and breaks up with Hugh. It’s a journey of self-discovery perfectly suited to an Alice in Wonderland reference.

7. “You May Remember Me From…”

“To Alcohol! The Cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” There are few things Homer Simpson loves more than a nice, cold Duff (or Fudd). So it’s not surprising when he skips work to tour the Duff Brewery with Barney in “Duffless”. The shocker is that Homer drinks responsibly on the tour. Barney, on the other hand, is on a mission to drain the brewery dry and almost succeeds. He’s so hammered Homer refuses to let him drive and takes the keys himself, another uncharacteristically responsible decision. But after being pulled over by Chief Wiggum, Homer fails a breathalyzer test and is sent to traffic school as part of his D.U.I. punishment. At traffic school, he watches a video presented by Hollywood has-been, future husband of Selma, and noted fish romancer Troy McClure (voiced by the legendary Phil Hartman). In the intro to the video, McClure mentions his other driver-ed credits include “Alice’s Adventures Through the Windshield Glass”. This macabre joke has no deep meaning or connection to anything in the narrative. It’s simply funny. A joke thousands of comedy writers would include in their portfolio but on The Simpsons, it’s a throwaway line. The joke was reworked thirty years later for the title of the season thirty-four episode “Homer’s Adventures Through the Windshield Glass.”

Still image from "The Simpsons" season 6 episode "Lemon of Troy" featuring a group of Shelbyville kids looking into a tree containing Milhouse's eyebrows, glasses, and smile.

6. Milhouse the Cat

Another Milhouse moment comes in at number six. Town pride is at stake in “Lemon of Troy” when a gang of ruffians from Shelbyville steal Springfield’s beloved lemon tree. Why does Springfield care so much about a lemon tree? According to Grampa Simpson, the tree was planted in the ground upon which Jebediah Springfield and Shelbyville Manhattan first settled. Yet after a disagreement about cousin marriage (Springfield was against it, Shelbyville for it), they split and founded their own towns.

The kids track the tree to a Shelbyville impound lot. Bart decides to lead a raid into Shelbyville where they’ll recover the tree or “choke their rivers with our dead!” While prepping, Milhouse finds camouflage gear in his room and imagines a scenario in which Shelbyvillians are chasing him. Because of his camouflage, he’s able to disappear in a clump of bushes. He then taunts the befuddled bullies, who can only see his glasses and smile in the leaves, reminiscent of the Cheshire Cat. It’s a perfectly crafted reference to Alice in Wonderland that directly ties into a deeper level of Milhouse’s psyche. Bart’s sidekick is often powerless and under emotional or physical attack. It makes sense he would fantasize about having power over others, one step ahead of the bullies who so often terrorize him.

And what happened to the tree you may ask? Well, the Springfield expedition force, now including Homer and some of the other dads, steals back their lemon tree using Flanders’ RV as a Trojan Horse to infiltrate the impound lot. Some stories do have a happy ending.

5. Moe Gets a Date

Poor Moe. The pathetic proprietor of Springfield’s favorite dive is constantly rejected by life. But sometimes, The Simpsons’ writers take pity on the pugnacious publican and give him some happiness. “Eeny Teeny Maya Moe” begins with Homer and Maggie going to Moe’s Tavern (he’s trying to be a better father). He and the other barflys are shocked to discover that Moe, their Moe, actually has a date. Moe relates how he met a woman named Maya online. He reluctantly sent her a picture of himself and she thought he was cute, prompting him to exclaim – “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”

This, of course, is a reference to Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky” from Through the Looking-Glass, in which the narrator rejoices at vanquishing the feared Jabberwock. “Frabjous,” “Callooh,” and “Callay” were invented by Carroll and wholly capture the feeling of elation. They’re perfect words to encapsulate Moe’s joy, as he is seldom found attractive. Their use in this episode is actually a reference to a moment in season thirteen when Mr. Burns exclaims “O frabjous day!” after scoring a date with a policewoman, creating Inception-likepop culture references.

Moe’s rapture continues as he falls in love with Maya. However, Moe has one problem, himself. Maya is a little person and Moe can’t stop himself from making tactless jokes about her height. Maya eventually breaks up with Moe, leaving him heartbroken. But all is not lost. Moe and Maya reconnect in season thirty-three and she accepts his proposal. O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

4. Krusty the Ventriloquist

Krusty the Clown is one of show business’ great survivors. The hard-drinking, hard-gambling TV comedian has weathered lawsuits over his hazardous merchandise, a revolt at his children’s camp, and a vengeful former sidekick to maintain his status as the idol of Springfield’s children, especially Bart. But Krusty’s empire is threatened with extinction in “Krusty Gets Kancelled” when a new ventriloquist act, Gabbo, takes Springfield by storm. Krusty tries to fight back with his own ventriloquist act, appearing on his show with a dilapidated dummy and asking it, “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” This is a reference to the confounding riddle the Mad Hatter asks Alice during the tea party in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The Simpsons shares Lewis Carroll’s love of the absurd, the surreal, and the silly, so it’s fitting the show’s iconic children’s entertainer would reference a work that redefined how children are entertained.

Krusty’s plan backfires when the dummy falls apart in his lap, horrifying the children in the audience. Krusty is canceled. He sinks into depression but the ever-loyal Bart and Lisa help Krusty resurrect his career. They get Gabbo canceled by recording him insulting his fans and engineer a comeback special featuring Bette Midler, Johnny Carson, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Luke Perry (Krusty’s “worthless half-brother”). Krusty is back on top and bigger than ever.

3. Selma’s Child

Selma Bouvier, one of Marge’s cantankerous older sisters, is yet another Springfieldian who has been hopelessly unlucky in love. She has been married to Sideshow Bob, Lionel Hutz, Troy McClure, Disco Stu, Grampa Simpson, and Fat Tony’s cousin, Fit-Fat Tony. She has also dated Hans Moleman, Moe Szyslak, and Barney Gumble. She needs some help when it comes to relationships.

In “Selma’s Choice,” Selma has an existential crisis when her aunt Gladys dies and leaves a video will in which Gladys urges Selma and her twin sister Patty not to die alone without a husband and children. Selma becomes obsessed with having a baby. She tries a host of options – video dating, a love potion, artificial insemination, and a mail-order husband. But video dating goes nowhere, the love potion is a fake, Barney is the fertility clinic’s top donor, and her mail-order husband turns out to be a cardboard cut-out. Marge takes pity on her depressed sister and suggests she take Bart and Lisa to the Duff Gardens amusement park to give her a sense of being a parent. Selma’s afternoon with the kids goes horribly (Bart gets arrested, Lisa gets drugged by toxic water) and Selma realizes she’s totally not ready for a child. She decides to adopt her late aunt’s Iguana, Jub-Jub and sweetly serenades him with “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” as the episode ends.

Jub-Jub the iguana, named by Conan O’Brien during his tenure as a staff writer, is a reference to the dangerous bird-like creature Lewis Carroll created for “Jabberwocky”. Its voice is “shrill and high” and it is “desperate,” living in “perpetual passion.” It’s unknown if O’Brien was consciously making an Alice reference when he named Jub-Jub. But Selma is desperate and in perpetual passion, evidenced by her scattershot approach to dating. She is often seen as ugly and unlovable. It’s poignant that the being who makes Selma feel loved and seen is named after a creature who exhibits so many of the qualities that made Selma feel alone in the first place.

2. Moe the Babysitter

Curiously, many of the Alice in Wonderland references in this list are associated with frequently depressed, downtrodden characters searching for meaning in their life. Maybe the writers tried to give their distressed creation a little bit of levity. Maybe it’s a commentary on how Alice is an archetype for a journey of self-discovery. Maybe it’s a coincidence. Whatever the reason for this link, it holds true in “Moe Baby Blues,” in which our old friend Moe Szyslak unexpectedly bonds with Maggie after saving her from falling off a bridge.

Moe quickly becomes Maggie’s babysitter. In one scene, Moe puts Maggie to bed and she gives him a copy of Alice in Wonderland to read to her. Moe cracks the book, assuming it’s related to “that Alice in Underpants movie I saw,” and quickly becomes horrified. “White rabbit, chicks poppin’ mushrooms, this is like the Playboy Mansion!” Moe tosses the book and tells Maggie a more suitable children’s tale, The Godfather (and Godfather II), which she loves because she’s a baby of taste. The interpretation of Alice’s journey as twisted and dark is common. Moe’s review of Alice ties into a revisionist reading of Lewis Carroll’s novel which highlights its surreal aspects as evidence of drug use and debauchery. Here, The Simpsons isn’t just referencing Alice, but the theories surrounding the book that are prevalent in modern pop culture.

Moe eventually submarines his relationship with Maggie by being himself, his desperation for human connection leading him to be overbearing and just plain weird. But Moe redeems himself by saving Maggie again, this time from a mob war (long story). His impassioned plea to the belligerent gangsters about how his relationship with Maggie brought meaning to his life brings tears to their eyes, prompting Fat Tony to say “I haven’t cried like this since I paid to see Godfather III.” Same here, Fat Tony, same here.

1. Lisa in the Library

We begin with Lisa, we end with Lisa. Alice’s avatar in The Simpsons undertakes one of her many journeys of self-discovery in “Summer of 4 Ft. 2”. It’s the end of the school year and everyone is excited except for Lisa, who can’t find anyone to sign her yearbook. The Simpsons go on a surprise vacation when Flanders lets them use his beach house while he’s on jury duty. The Simpsons, and Milhouse, head to Little Pwagmattasquarmsettport (probably in New England), “America’s Scrod Basket”, where Lisa resolves to shed her nerdy shell and become “cool”. She makes friends with some cool locals and, to her delight, they accept her.

The Alice reference comes when Lisa meets her new friends. She’s walking to the town library when she spots them skateboarding outside. Torn between going into the library or introducing herself to the skaters, Lisa imagines a host of fictional characters urging her to join them in the library. Alice and the Mad Hatter appear and Alice asks her to join their tea party before suddenly warning her, “It’s a trap!” as the Mad Hatter holds Alice at gunpoint. There may be something deeper at work. A reference to Alice’s fear and confusion at being stuck in Wonderland, perhaps? But mostly, it’s just plain funny. A hallmark of The Simpsons’ love forabsurdity and silliness, which perfectly matches the tone of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Lisa’s odyssey runs into rocky shores when Bart, jealous that Lisa is making new friends and he only has Milhouse, cruelly unmasks Lisa as a nerd. She runs off crying but the next day, Lisa discovers that Bart wracked with guilt, showed Lisa’s friends her yearbook, which they signed with heartfelt messages. They also decorated the family car with seashells and wrote “Lisa Rules” on the side. They don’t care about her being a nerd. They love her for it and see her as the great person she is. Lisa feels accepted and gains a new sense of self-confidence. She returns to Springfield filled with happiness, while Homer is filled with rage because seagulls keep attacking his seashell-covered car.

An itinerant storyteller, John Drain attended the University of Edinburgh before studying film at DePaul University in Chicago and later earned an MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute Conservatory. John focuses on writing mysteries and thrillers featuring characters who are thrown into the deep end of the pool and struggle to just keep their heads above water. His work has been recognized by the Academy Nicholls Fellowship, the Austin Film Festival, ScreenCraft, Cinestory, and the Montreal Independent Film Festival. In a previous life, John created and produced theme park attractions across the globe for a wide variety of audiences. John keeps busy in his spare time with three Dungeons and Dragons campaigns and a seemingly never-ending stack of medieval history books.

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