Photo: Jordin Althaus/
During the 2007 holiday season, a couple of fortunate young ladies plunged into strange and dangerous worlds. In Enchanted, a princess accustomed to the realm of happily-ever-after runs afoul of an evil queen who proceeds to drop her in the middle of bustling Times Square. And in The Golden Compass—based on the first novel in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy—a strong-willed English orphan embarks on a supernatural voyage to the North Pole. These wayfarers share at least a little DNA with the quintessential girl adventurer, Lewis Carroll's Alice, whose travels in Wonderland have inspired dozens of film adaptations, from the 1951 Disney version to Jan Svankmajer's Alice (1988), which mixed live action and stop-motion animation, with entrancingly weird results.

Exhilarating dips into the rabbit hole of a child's imagination are also at the heart of 1995's A Little Princess, adapted from Frances Hodgson Burnett's book and directed by Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men). After Sara Crewe's wealthy father goes missing in the trenches of World War I, her idyllic childhood in India gives way to bedraggled servitude in a posh New York boarding school. But Sara's lively daydreams, which often take their cue from the Ramayana, an ancient Sanskrit epic, lose none of their luster. (Early in the movie, Sara casts aside a stodgy book and entertains her classmates with an improvised tale of Tahitian romance, near-death scrapes, and heroic mermaids.) Cuarón's bewitching all-ages fable doesn't measure a girl by her bloodlines or bling, but rather by her gifts as a storyteller. And our indomitable heroine holds on to her belief—which is also the film's gently reinforced moral—that every girl is a princess.