In Theaters Now

Alice in Wonderland

A “Burtonesque” version of Alice in Wonderland arrives on movie screens—in 3D—in March 2010 as Walt Disney Studios unveils Tim Burton’s new vision of the classic fantasy world created by Lewis Carroll. Rather than simply re-telling Carroll’s tales, screenwriter Linda Woolverton (whose credits include Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King) invents a new story using the familiar characters and setting . . . but with a twist. Alice, played by Australian actress Mia Wasikowska, is now an older teen, on the verge of entering the adult world.As she attends a party at a Victorian estate, Alice discovers “she is about to be proposed to in front of hundreds of snooty society types,” writes Susan Wloszcyna in USA Today. “Off she runs, following a white rabbit into a hole and ending up in Wonderland, a place she visited 10 years before yet doesn't remember.”

Welcoming Alice back to Wonderland is the Mad Hatter, played by Johnny Depp, a character producer Richard Zanuck cheerfully describes as “off his rocker.” Says Zanuck, &“He is so much fun and so nutty, I can't imagine anyone else doing it.”

Yes, the Mad Hatter is literally mad. While investigating the character as established in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Johnny Depp found a rational explanation for the Mad Hatter’s madness that is connected to 19th-century hat-making processes and their reliance on mercury-based glue. “The book has a basis for everything,” Johnny told reporter Earl Dittman in a 2009 interview. “There are little mysteries, little clues in the book that I found fascinating, that were keys to my understanding of the Mad Hatter, like him saying, ‘I’m investigating things that begin with the letter M.’ That was huge for me, because when you do a little digging, you realize you’re talking about a hatter, a man who made hats, and you go back and look at some of the history.” There is a reason for the cliché “mad as a hatter,” Johnny explained, “and the reason for that was mercury poisoning. They got mercury poisoning because there was mercury in the glue. So they start to go a little sideways.”

Expect Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland to go a little “sideways” as well. “Burton's take promises to be much darker, quirkier, and more visually arresting,” writes Mark Salisbury in Total Film. Burton told the audience at ComicCon in July 2009 that he wanted to “try and make Alice feel more like a story as opposed to a series of events.” He also hopes to give the story more emotional resonance . . . more heart. “Seeing other movie versions of it, I never felt an emotional connection to it,” Burton explained. “It was always a girl wandering around from one crazy character to another, and I never really felt any real emotional connection. So it's an attempt to really try to give [Alice in Wonderland] some framework of emotional grounding that has never been in any version before. So that's the challenge to me.” Burton called Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter “an iconic character” and noted that Johnny sought to find that “emotional grounding” for the Mad Hatter--“something that you feel, as opposed to just being mad,” Burton said. “In a lot of versions it's a very one-note kind of character. [. . . H]is goal was to try and bring out a human side to the strangeness of the character. Any time I work with him, that's something he tries to do, so that's no exception.”

The Alice in Wonderland cast may be the most talent-laden of any Tim Burton film—and that’s saying a lot. Joining Johnny Depp and Mia Wasikowska are Helena Bonham Carter as the homicidal Red Queen (“Off with their heads!”), whose look is clearly modeled on Queen Elizabeth I, and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen. Hathaway describes her character this way: “A friend of mine just gave me a magnet that was a bunny rabbit holding a knife . [. . .] It said 'Cute but psycho, it evens out.' And that's [. . .] the White Queen.” Crispin Glover plays the Knave of Hearts, Michael Sheen is the White Rabbit, Matt Lucas plays Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Barbara Windsor plays the Dormouse, and Stephen Fry is the Cheshire Cat. Returning to the Burton ensemble are Alan Rickman (the Caterpillar), Timothy Spall (the Bloodhound), and horror legend Christopher Lee (the Jabberwock).

Director Burton has several favorite collaborators joining him on Alice in Wonderland. Director of photography Dariusz Wolski, composer Danny Elfman, editor Chris Lebenzon, and costume designer Colleen Atwood are all Burton veterans. Because of the 3D special effects and the combination of live-action and animation, however, Burton found himself dealing with the strangeness of green-screen shooting for the first time in his career. “It's difficult when you don't have a lot of sets,” Burton said in an interview at ComicCon. “You try to keep it as lively as possible so that actors can interact as much with each other as possible. Speed and energy are important. It really starts to freak you out after a while, not only for the actors but for myself and crew. You start to think, ‘who are we again, where are we?’”

Despite the production challenges, Burton feels 3D is the right choice for Alice in Wonderland because of the nature of the story: “With the Alice material, the growing and shrinking and the weird kind of spaces and places you're in, it just kind of helps with the experience,” he explained. “I'm personally not out to make it a gimmick. I think it puts you in this world more.”

Alice in Wonderland began shooting with live-action scenes on location (including the historic Antony House) in southeast Cornwall in September 2008; production then shifted to soundstages in Los Angeles from mid-October through December 2008. The film is currently in (extensive) post-production.

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland won the 2009 Scream Award as the Most Anticipated Fantasy Film of the coming year. It will be released in North America on March 5, 2010. --Part-Time Poet

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