ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
Welcome back to Wonderland... But where’s Tim Burton? The t ime has come, Stephen Kelly says, to ta l k of many t hings...
How do you follow up one of the biggest fantasy films of all time? Like this…
If there’s one thing to take away from Alice In Wonderland, the 2010 live- action adaptation by Tim Burton, it’s that some films are just too big to fail. For Alice In Wonderland was, by and large, a critical dud, a movie that many reviewers saw as a sign of Burton’s creative fatigue. But it didn’t matter. The project sounded too perfect to fail. Tim Burton, one of cinema’s greatest surrealists, taking on one of the most surreal stories ever told? Johnny Depp – in a role he was seemingly born to play – as the Mad Hatter? It made over a billion dollars, and is currently the 22nd highest- grossing film ever. Naturally, this means a sequel: Alice Through The Looking Glass, based on Lewis Carroll’s
second 1871 novel Through The Looking- Glass,
And What Alice Found There. Burton, however, will only be taking on a producing role. Directorial duties now fall to James Bobin, no stranger to breathing life back into franchises. After all, he was the Brit who oversaw the return of the Muppets in 2011, with a cowriting credit for its sequel The Muppets: Most Wanted. Before then, he co- created Flight Of
The Conchords, and worked with Sacha Baron Cohen on everything from Ali G to Borat. Still, one of the biggest films of all time, directed by one of the most iconic directors of all time – that’s quite an act to follow.
“It’s daunting!” laughs Bobin. “But it’s also exciting, as Tim’s still a producer. So you get to work with one of your heroes. I grew up watching his films, I love his style, his feel. I was so excited that I got to play in that sand pit.”
That sand pit, of course, is distinctive and well known. Alongside his “squad” ( frequent collaborators Depp and ex- partner Helena Bonham Carter), Alice In Wonderland ticked all the boxes of a Burton flick; wry, gothic aesthetic, larger- than- life characters ( literally, in Bonham Carter’s case) and wispy, dreamlike dialogue. So surely, when it came to making sand castles of his own, there were limits to what Bobin could do?
“It’s not dissimilar to the Muppets,” he says. “I never felt inhibited with the Muppets having existed before. I love those characters and I knew them, and I knew what they’d do in certain situations. It’s the same with this film. I knew that while I wanted to use a lot of the stylistic feel of Alice In Wonderland, that – because my background is primarily in comedy – I wanted to bring a sort of lightness to it, a brevity. In my own reading of Lewis Carroll, he is a comic person. A lot of his work is very much surrealist satire. In a weird way he’s one of the originators of English humour; that weird, surreal wordplay that you can trace all the way to Monty Python.”
I imagine that Lewis Carroll was very interested in the idea of time travel
Burton’s Alice In Wonderland was a pseudo- sequel to Carroll’s original novel, with a 19- year- old Alice ( Mia Wasikowska) returning to Wonderland 13 years after her previous visit, only to find the world plunged into darkness – with old friends like the Cheshire Cat ( Stephen Fry), the White Rabbit ( Michael Sheen) and the Mad Hatter living under the tyranny of Bonham- Carter’s Red Queen. Alice Through The Looking Glass is similarly loose in its adaptation; taking the key elements of Carroll’s unfilmable second book ( Alice returning to Wonderland via a mirror; finding herself in a reverse mirror world; lots of chess) and fleshing them out into a story that will work on the big screen.
“I love the idea of going through the looking glass. Carroll kind of invented the idea of a portal, which is such a brilliant idea. It’s classic Carroll, thinking about things in a way that people hadn’t ever thought about before. I wanted to explore that backwards element, to keep the drama of the world, but not to tie ourselves too closely to a book that is basically Carroll having fun as a mathematician, of telling a nonsensical story about chess. It’s an odd book; non- linear and a bit non- consequential.”
The film, however, needs a focus, and that comes in the form of Depp’s Mad Hatter, the zany highlight of the original who is now in danger of losing much of his muchness.
“Johnny Depp is such a brilliant performer,” says Bobin, “and I knew exactly what I wanted his character to be in this film – which is basically its emotional engine. Johnny’s Hatter has a great vulnerability to him, and this is all about his tragedy – a belief that his family is still alive, a belief that is literally killing him. And a threat to the Hatter is a threat to that whole world, as he is the embodiment of it.”
In order to save her friend, Alice must turn to Time himself, a new character ( although one mentioned in the first novel) that is part human, part clock, and played by Bobin’s long- time collaborator Sacha Baron Cohen.
“There’s something very British about asking someone, ‘ Please may I travel through time?’ I knew Sacha would be perfect for that. Time is a ridiculous, incredibly pompous despot, but he also lives on his own, in this gigantic castle,
surrounded only by these mechanical dudes who look after his world. He’s an antagonist, but an antagonist you’d like, and possibly feel sorry for and be amused by. One of the things about Sacha is he’s very good at playing that sort of vulnerable, sad character. Borat was a guy you liked, but felt sorry for.”
The future is unclear, but Alice’s timetravelling adventure will most certainly take her into Wonderland’s past; not only introducing us to new additions like the Mad Hatter’s father, played by Rhys Ifans, but to younger versions of characters we already know. Basically, not only is Alice Through The
Looking Glass a sequel, but a prequel too.
“Carroll was only about 30 years before HG Wells but I imagine, as a mathematician, he was very interested in the idea of time travel. And for us, it’s interesting to explain how those characters came to be, and why they interact like they do in the future. Take the Red Queen, and her rivalry with the White Queen ( Anne Hathaway). I loved the idea of trying to explain where that came from – and how sometimes things are not as black and white as you think it might be. There are reasons why people are the way they are – even in Wonderland.”
Alice Through The Looking Glass opens on 27 May.
Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen doesn’t care that it’s rude to point.
Mia Wasikowska’s Alice discovers the abysmal depths of chess.
Johnny Depp had only just realised what he looked like.