It seems like the perfect marriage. On one hand, you have Lewis Carroll’s surreal fantasy, “Alice in Wonderland,” about a girl trapped in a topsy-turvy world of mad hatters, Cheshire cats and nattily dressed white rabbits. And on the other, you have Tim Burton, the director whose cheerfully twisted concoctions, including “Edward Scissorhands” (1990) and another literary adaptation, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005), reflect the sometime-animator’s eye for visual quirkiness.
For Burton, making “Alice” — which opens Friday — not only represented the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, born during his childhood in Burbank, but also a meticulously crafted critique of previous cinematic adaptations of Carroll’s best-known work, which the director found lacking.
“Growing up, you hear beautiful imagery in songs and stories, and the imagery Carroll created has resonated in people’s minds over several generations,” says Burton, 51. “Anything that has strong, dreamlike imagery that stays with you is invaluable to your subconscious and your creativity. ‘Alice’ inspired me.
“I wanted to tell his story differently than it’s been told in the past because I’ve never seen a movie version that I really liked. I never felt a connection to those versions, and that was the challenge — to take these characters, who represent the kind of weirdness we all go through, and give them some emotional grounding. I wanted to make ‘Alice’ feel like a story, not a series of events.”
Burton enlisted the aid of screenwriter Linda Woolverton, who wrote Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” to conceive a story that combines all the classic elements of Carroll’s 1865 novel with narrative threads borrowed from his 1872 follow-up, “Through the Looking-Glass."
Naturally, he called on longtime friend and collaborator Johnny Depp, who earned an Oscar nomination for his starring turn in Burton’s 2007 adaptation of “Sweeney Todd,” to play the Mad Hatter.
“He was just wandering around the neighborhood, dressed as [‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ swashbuckler] Jack Sparrow, and we invited him in,” Burton says with a laugh. “I love working with Johnny. It started with ‘Edward Scissorhands’ and progressed from there. Every time we work together, he tries to do something different. He doesn’t like to watch himself, and he always brings something new to every role. Even after 20 years, he’s still trying to surprise me with his creative choices. That makes my job easier.”
IF YOU GO
Alice in Wonderland
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Michael Sheen, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Alan Rickman
Written by Linda Woolverton
Directed by Tim Burton
Running time 1 hour 48 minutes