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Do eye-popping effects & an emotional thru-line really hold the key to audiences connecting with “Alice” ?

Do eye-popping effects & an emotional thru-line really hold the key to audiences connecting with “Alice” ?

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In response to last week’s Alice in Wonderland touring exhibit article, Cheshire Brat wrote in to say:

In today’s article, you say that Tim Burton wants his version of “Alice in Wonderland” to be different from all the movies & TV shows that proceed it. That this time around, Burton wants to emotionally ground Lewis Carroll’s stories. Did Tim ever explain how he intends on doing that?

To be honest, no.

Tim Burton talks about Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" at Comic Con Internationsl 2009
Tim Burton confers with the press at Comic-Con.
Photo by Nancy Stadler

To be fair to Mr. Burton, he’s still in the middle of working on Disney’s new Digital 3D version of “Alice in Wonderland.” And as soon as Tim finished up with all of his promotional obligations at this year’s Comic-Con, he then rushed back to London. Where Burton has at least another five months worth of work to do yet on this Walt Disney Pictures release.

"This is the first time I've dealt with a lot of green screen," Burton said. "Because we're using so many different techniques on this film, it takes a very long time to get to a finished shot. So I'll be working on "Alice" right up until the end. Which is a bit scary, but exciting as well.”

But as to how his take on this much beloved children’s tale will be different from all the movies & TV shows that proceed it, Tim talked about he and screenwriter Linda Woolverton have tried to give Lewis Carroll’s stories an emotional thru-line this time around.

Concept Art from Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" directed by Tim Burton
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

“In all of the other versions of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ that I’ve ever seen, I’ve never felt an emotional connection to the material,” Burton explained. “Alice was always this passive little girl who wandered from place to place, meeting one crazy character after another. What Linda and I have tried to do is give this story some sort of emotional grounding.”

Mind you – just as they have in the past – Carroll’s characters will remain weird in Disney’s new movie version of “Alice in Wonderland.” But this time around, they’ll be weird for very specific reasons.

Take – for example – Johnny Depp’s take on the Mad Hatter. Though Burton joked that – in order to get that bright red shock wig that Depp wears in this film – he and Johnny “ … scalped Carrot Top,” Tim explained how these two longtime collaborators took a very methodical approach to creating an all-new version of this iconic character. Having long conversations about how the Hatter should be dressed, even discussing why exactly this character was mad.

Concept Art from Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" directed by Tim Burton
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

“(The Mad Hatter has) been portrayed in animation and in live action before. But in most of those versions, the Hatter is just this one note character,” Burton continued. “And Johnny – just as he always does – dug deeper. He tried to find a grounding for this character, something that you feel, as opposed to just having the Hatter be mad. (Johnny’s) goal was to try and bring out a human side to the strangeness of this character.”

Now add to this that the additional challenge that Tim faced. Given that this new version of “Alice in Wonderland” – when it’s released to theaters in March of 2010 – will be shown in Disney Digital 3D. Which Burton says was a deliberate storytelling choice.

“(Doing this version of “Alice” in 3D) is not a gimmick. I think that (this film-making process) puts you in this world more,” Burton said. “Plus with the Alice material -- the growing & shrinking and the weird kind of spaces & places you’re in (in this story), it just kind of helps with the experience. “

Concept art from Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" directed by Tim Burton
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Even so, with all of the effects work that still has be done in order to make this all-new version of “Alice in Wonderland” a truly memorable 3D experience, Burton wasn’t much in a mood to discuss “Dark Shadows,” his next project with Depp.

“Yeah, that’s my next one,” Tim concluded. “If I ever finish this one.”

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