During morose economic times, escaping to another realm can be quite enticing.

During morose economic times, escaping to another realm can be quite enticing.

But what about a realm where a hookah-smoking, blue caterpillar dispenses advice, locals live in terror of a narcissistic, fickle queen with a head the size of the planet Jupiter, and where your best ally is a hatter who’s spent too much time around the mercury fumes?

For plenty of moviegoers this weekend, that was all just fine.

“Alice in Wonderland,” directed by Tim Burton, is just the latest version of Lewis Carroll’s rendering of a dream-like, alternate universe, one that continues to make a home in popular culture.

The film is a Disney production, bringing it full circle in a sense. Disney’s 1951 animated version created archetypal versions of Alice, the Cheshire Cat and other main characters.

With opening weekend receipts estimated at more than $200 million worldwide – with a 3-D version proving a huge draw – moviegoers generally approve of Burton’s interpretation despite mixed critics’ reviews and the script’s liberal treatment of Carroll’s books.

“It was strange. The whole movie was really bizarre,” said Vimalan Rajalingam, 31, of Watertown, who saw the film Sunday at the AMC Cinema in Burlington with friends. Rajalingam, who had read Lewis Carroll’s books, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through The Looking-Glass,” said the film was “typical of Tim Burton films. It’s got a dark flavor to it.”

His friend, Farah Naaz, 25, of Boston, said she thought the plot got “a bit off track” but resolved itself neatly at the end.

And, she appreciated the film’s portrayal of Alice as a strong female protagonist who confronts the beastly Jabberwocky.

Master of language

One reason “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through The Looking-Glass” endure is their indelible impact on the English language, said Warren Lapine, publisher of “Realms of Fantasy” magazine.

Lapine said he has read the books to his young daughter and granddaughter. “There is so much word play in it. I explain the double meanings of the words, and by the end, my daughter was inventing her own word play. It gets a kid thinking about homonyms and synonyms.”

He added, “It’s some of the funniest, pithiest, best dialogue ever written.”

Lapine sees parallels between Alice’s adventures and those of Dorothy in the “Oz” series by American author L. Frank Baum, which also has left a cultural mark.

For Carroll, the creation of Alice – and his supposed real-life friendship with a young girl of the same name – has sparked much research into and speculation about his personal life.

Lapine said not enough is known about Carroll’s life to render judgment. He also warned against seeing Carroll’s Victorian era – marked by sentimentality toward children -- through the lens of the 21st century.

Another common speculation is whether Carroll intended references to hallucinogenic drugs, an idea further spurred by Jefferson Airplane’s 1972 song, “White Rabbit.”

Lapine said, “I think it is looking at the story through our own filter. The stories are more like a strange dream, where obviously there are going to be similarities (to a hallucination.)”

Books versus film

As for Tim Burton’s film, Lapine enjoyed it “as a good film,” but said it’s not a good or true interpretation of the books – more like a mash up of both, with invented bits and artistic liberties.

For example, the dreaded Jabberwocky appears only in one of the many poems in the books and is not a character in its own right, as it is in Burton’s film.

Lapine said, “I thought it was odd that in real life, she was rebelling against what she was being told to do, but she went along with what others said in the fantasy world,” Lapine said. “I guess she just liked the orders of their world better.”

Margaret Smith is Arts and Calendar editor at GateHouse Media New England. E-mail her at msmith@cnc.com.