Interview: Tim Burton

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Tim Burton’s body of work is an Underland. His latest is Alice In Wonderland for Disney and sees the animator/director reunite once again with muse Johnny Depp. JUICE speaks with its favorite auteur of all time about the making of, why animation is back better than ever and why Alice is like us, young and conflicted.

Why do you think Alice In Wonderland is still popular more than 140 years after its publication?
It somehow taps a subconscious thing. That’s why all those great stories stay around because they tap into the things that people probably aren’t even aware of. There’s definitely something about those images. That’s why there have been so many versions of it. As a movie, it’s always been about a passive little girl wandering around a series of adventures with weird characters. There’s never any kind of gravity to it. The attempt with this was to take the idea of those stories and shape them into something that’s not literal from the book but keeps the spirit of it.

Growing up, did you have a favorite children’s book?
I was a Dr. Seuss fan. It was easy to read. I liked his drawings. But, the reason I wanted to do “Alice” is that it was a really interesting challenge. I didn’t feel personally, like I might on another project, like, oh, there is one great version out there, so to try and do another one, might be a problem. But with “Alice,” there are some interesting ones, but I don’t know if any are completely successful.

What do you like about this version of the story?
It’s more of a personal journey. These are the things that are actually the most important in life. That moment where you make that important choice. Maybe it happens to everybody. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it does a couple of different times in your life, where you learn something, you grow. You know, it’s like you’ve got two sides of yourself in conflict. Emotionally conflicted. And then, when you make that personal growth, it’s quite an amazing thing. Quite a strong thing. It’s reconciling within yourself who you are, becoming the person you’re going to be, a human being. It sounds light, but it’s important.

Why did you make Alice a 19-year-old?
That age just seems to me to be a crossroads. There, I think you’re entering a culture where you’re pressured into society, or getting married, or some other thing. I just felt like Alice is an interesting character, because she’s at that age, and she’s got both a young person’s and an old person’s soul. There’s a dynamic—at odds feeling both the young and the old, and then reconciling those two things. It just seemed like the classic structure of fantasy—go back to The Wizard of Oz. Or any of a number of fairy or folk tales—these adventures are always to work out the character’s emotional problems. That’s why I’ve always been intrigued by the poetry and the purpose of such stories—myths and things. They mean something. And, so, her adventures are her coming to terms with who she is and gaining her personal strength. Those are the journeys that are made in these stories, but they’re quite private, too. It seemed like the right age to explore that dynamic of somebody, at a moment of change.

Is it Underland or Wonderland? What does it look like in this film?
It is Underland and has always been Underland, but according to the film version, when Alice visited as a child, she misheard the name and called it Wonderland. Everybody’s got an image of Underland. I think in people’s minds, it’s always a very bright, cartoony place. We thought if Alice had had this adventure as a little girl and now she’s going back, perhaps it’s been a little bit depressed since she’s left. It’s got a slightly haunted quality to it.

Where do you see the future of movies going, now that you have this mixture of 3D and live-action?
I was in animation several years ago. It was pronounced dead, and then they stopped doing hand drawn. So, the good news is that there are more forms for everything, which is great. There should be 3D, drawn animation, computer animation, stop-motion. It’s all valid. It’s all great. And it’s better now than it’s ever been. I was struggling for 10 years to get a stop-motion movie made. Now, you can do it—no problem.

Hooray for that!