In Tim Burton’s inimitable way, he’s turned the iconic fantasy Alice in Wonderland on its head, with a 19-year-old Alice, who is returning to Underland (she misheard the name when she was a child) to overthrow the Red Queen (played immaculately by Burton’s wife, Helena Bonham Carter) who has been terrorizing her subjects.
It’s the seventh movie the director has collaborated on with actor Johnny Depp, who portrays a comic and tragic Mad Hatter. We spoke with Mr Burton at the press day for the film, where he talked about his version of a perennial classic.
What was it that made you want to go into the world of Alice in Wonderland in 3D?
Well, it was that. It was Alice in Wonderland and 3-D, it just seemed like the world that Lewis Carroll created. The kind of trippiness and the size, spatial elements, and I was thinking about the world of Lewis Carroll, not so much about the films, but I knew more about it listening to music and bands and other illustrators and artists that would incorporate that imagery in their work.
It just made me realize how powerful the material was. If it were written today, it would be mind-blowing. So the combination of the medium and the material just seemed really right.
And putting your own stamp on this, it’s not the Alice in Wonderland we’re used to.
Well, yeah, there’s been so many versions, and for me I’ve never seen a version that I really liked, so I didn’t feel that there was a definitive version to me that we were fighting against.
I liked what Linda (Woolverton, the screenwriter) did with the script. She almost treated this story like how the Alice material has affected us, at least for me. It’s the story about somebody using this kind of imagery and this kind of world to figure out problems and things in their own life, and what’s fantasy and reality and dreams, how they’re not separate things, they’re one thing. It’s how we use those things to deal with our issues in life.
When did the original book enter your life and what how did the book influence you?
Well, I’m from Burbank, so we never heard about Alice in Wonderland, except from the Disney cartoon and Jefferson Airplane. But it was interesting because that’s what made me realize the power of it is that I got my introduction much more from other illustrators and music, culture and writers, and the imagery would come up in other’s work, and that’s when you start to delve into it and you realize just how powerful it is and that’s why it remains that way.
You shot this in 2D and converted it to 3D, what was your reasoning for doing that?
Well, just because all the techniques we were using, there’s no point in shooting in 3D when there’s nothing to shoot. We were using so many different techniques. We didn’t go motion capture. We had live action, we had animation, we had virtual sets, a little bit of sets, so I looked from when we did the conversion for Nightmare (Before Christmas), and Ken Ralston and I looked at things that were shot in 3D and shot in 2D conversion. And it’s like anything; you can see good 3D, bad 3D, good conversion, bad conversion.
We always knew it was 3D, so we did all the proper planning so that when we got to that stage, and when we got all the elements finally together, then it was just another piece of the technology. In fact, that was part of the easier technology than the other elements that we were dealing with.
You’ve collaborated with Johnny Depp before, how did you see your professional and personal relationship grow sharing Alice in Wonderland?
I couldn’t really look at him during the shoot, because he looked like a scary clown. We didn’t make much eye contact during the shoot. Look, I’ve always loved working with Johnny from (Edward) Scissorhands on for many reasons. He likes to play characters, be different things. He doesn’t like watching himself, which I love, because that makes it a lot easier for me. It’s just great, and each time you do something, he’s always trying to do something different, and surprise us, and it’s great when you know somebody and they keep surprising you.
Was there anything in Alice that technologically you couldn’t do yet?
We were just using all different technologies. They’re all out there and people go purely motion capture, purely animation, different forms of animation. I think everything’s a new tool. You always have limitations. You can do more. It’s all great, but I never tried to focus too much on the technology. The fun of it for us is the artistic thing, and feeling like we’re making a movie and not get overly too involved and in love with the technology.
Of all the movies you and Johnny have worked on, which one has been your children’s favorite?
My kids don’t really like my movies. I can’t say, they’re too young; my son’s getting older but since they don’t really know what I do, I can’t really describe to him what I do, so he doesn’t really know what I do – whatever!