Alice’s Adaptations In Wonderland

God bless Tim Burton. For being utterly predictable. While he has worked in a number of different genres, (heartfelt outsider biopic, gorgeous Hammer pastiche, and terrible terrible remake), most of his die hard fans would prefer to see him making creepy cute fairy tales for goth kids. Not surprisingly seeing as he excels at it. Batman Returns, for example, while being a pretty bad Batman movie, is actually a great Tim Burton movie.

With the appearance of images from his forthcoming Alice in Wonderland, specifically Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter, looking for all the world like Jervis Tetch from a long lost Batman & Robin subplot, it seems like he is back in his comfort zone. For all the talk of how Wonderland has been “Burtonized” it looks to be a fairly traditional adaptation, with a plummy voiced young vixen pouting her way through scenes that borrow liberally from Tenniel and the better known elements of the sequel (although not any of the trequels), whilst running into Very Famous People, semi recognisable under layers of make up/prosthetics/animation/over the top acting.

Burton's Alice

Of course an entire book can be written on the various interpretations of Alice (and at least one already has), and I’m sure Burton’s will be a visual feast, but I suspect that the quitessential Englishness at the heart of it will be lost. That’s not to say that artists of other nationalities haven’t been able to make good versions (for example, both Disney and Jan Švankmajer have made wildly different adaptations, both of which are terrific), but for me Alice is part of a long strand of English surrealism, along with Edward Lear, Rupert Bear, The Magical Mystery Tour, Nursery Cryme, Syd Barrett and Vivian Stanshall. It’s this feeling that was captured in Jonathan Miller’s 1966 TV version (described by Brian Sibley much more eloquently than I can here), in which the animal masks were ditched and the inhabitants of Wonderland were depicted as aging upper class eccentrics.

"I'm only a poor old man, 'arold" Wilfred Brambell as The White Rabbit in Jonathan Miller's Alice

Alice doesn’t need darkening or weirdifying. It’s pretty dark and weird to begin with, which is why it’s lasted so long and has lended itself to so many different takes. This new version apparently “has been freshened with a blast of girl power” (urgh. Is it still 1996?) but I don’t recall Alice being a shrinking violet. She  regularly stands up to a bunch of weird unfathomable creatures, doing weird unfathomable shit, and has always, I think, been a pretty strong character. Hopefully they won’t resort to having her doing backflips while firing twin AK47s…

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