One of the reasons why Alice and Tim are such a great match is because nothing is exactly as it seems in Wonderland. Nothing is entirely good or entirely bad. - Anne Hathaway on Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland
Where did she go?
After some trial and error, she makes it through the door and discovers that the residents of this foreign land have their own expectations of her. Her strange new friends, a Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), roly-poly twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Matt Lucas), a White Queen (Anne Hathaway), and a few animals, inform her that she is their champion. She must battle the Jabberwocky, a dragon-like creature (voiced by Christopher Lee), so that the White Queen can regain rule from her sister the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and restore peace. No pressure. Get ready for a trip in Tim Burton's dreamlike adventure, Alice in Wonderland.
Don't worry, it's just Johnny.
I won't lie: Seeing these giant posters of the Mad Hatter's smiling clown face on bus stops and in Metro stations around D.C. kind of freaked me out for a while. I'm not afraid of clowns, but I don't like them. (Thanks, Poltergeist.) While not a clown by any means, the Mad Hatter's look reminded me of one. It's hard to see Johnny under all that makeup and costume; I was especially disturbed that his eyes were digitally enlarged and covered with neon contact lens. But I got used to it, eventually, because if you really look at the makeup and the outfit, it's a quite beautiful mix of colors and amazing detail.
Most fascinating to me was that when Tim Burton and Johnny, who both like to paint, created images on their own of what they thought the Mad Hatter would look like, they were very similar. It's no wonder they work so well together so often! Here are their watercolors. (Tim Burton's effort is on the left.)
Makeup Artists Patty York and Joel Harlow referred to Johnny's paintings when working their magic on his face. Johnny requested those electric eyes, with one contact painted slightly off. "He's never really looking straight at you. He's always looking a little farther off," he explains.
For the Mad Hatter's outfit, Johnny worked with Costume Designer Colleen Atwood. "We talked about him having all the tools of his trade apparent, so they aren't just on a shelf. They're a part of his costume," she says. "He's got his thimbles, his pin cushion ring, and all these things. We just kept pushing it, and it was great fun to make him all his bits and stuff." While the original hat was finished before the painting above, it is a pretty close match, don't you think?
I realize, however, that maybe I'm not the audience for that level of ridiculousness; it made the little girls sitting near me in the theater laugh. Yet, whenever I watch Alice in Wonderland, I'm still taken aback and disappointed by how unbelievable and disjointed the dance scene is in this magical world that otherwise I'm lost in every time.
But let's just focus on the Hatter!
Johnny's performance is wonderful! To research the role, he got clues about the character from Lewis Carroll's book and then read about real hatters who used glue with high mercury content. The glue would stain their hands and eventually the mercury would affect them. "They'd go goofy from the mercury and go nuts," Johnny says. "It did happen to people. They went mad as a hatter!" He imagined that's what happened to his character. Johnny saw the Mad Hatter as a more tragic figure than typically portrayed in other versions of Alice in Wonderland. In the 10 years since Alice has been away, he's gone through a lot: Aside from the occupational hazard of mercury poisoning, he suffers from depression caused by the Red Queen's oppressive rule over the once peaceful land. "I think he's been sitting there at that table, having the same tea with the same people in this kind of spaced-out funk for 10 years," Johnny says. "I think he's been frozen in time, waiting for Alice to come back." Now that she's returned, the Hatter has hope and is eager to fight back and free everyone from the Red Queen's domination.
This Alice has muchness!
I was very excited to see this version of Alice in Wonderland. I have a clipping from USA Today that was published during production and offered a preview of the film's sets. The title of the article, "Alice in Wonderland, Burtonized!" and the images accompanying it were enough to get me pacing the floors. Alice in Wonderland is a perfect kind of project for Tim Burton's imagination.
A part of me wanted this movie to be darker, but I guess it is a children's classic. This film used a mix of live actors, full animation, and a hybrid of both. "The idea was to explore the nature of dreams," Tim Burton says. "With all the cast, it was important that they felt like they were in the real and unreal world at the same time." I love how dream-like everything is, from the concepts to the visuals. The whole time, its unclear and questioned whether Alice is dreaming or not. She pinches herself to try to wake herself up. She tries to convince herself during scary moments that it's only a dream and that she can control it. Everything and everyone is strange in some way, in looks and personality, and some of the visuals are inspiring. After a long fall down the rabbit hole, for example, Alice lands upside down on a ceiling. And, when she drinks a potion that makes her shrink, she disappears into the folds of her dress's fabrics.
Alice in Wonderland's cast is fantastic, of course! Aside from the Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen is easily my favorite. She is creepy and hilarious at the same time and delivers some great lines so perfectly. Anne Hathaway is a complementary opposite as the White Queen, and Crispin Glover, who appeared with Johnny in Dead Man, is wonderfully slimy in this movie as Stayne. You'll hear many familiar voices from the animated characters too, including Alan Rickman, Paul Whitehouse, Timothy Spall, Michael Gough, and Christopher Lee. "He's always had a compassion, I guess, and been drawn to outsiders," Helena Bonham Carter says of Tim Burton's view of Alice in Wonderland's characters. "I think it's quite tricky for Tim because he said they're all mad. We all have to make them mad in a different way."
The most inspiring takeaway from this movie for me is Alice's character as she tries to prove who she is to everyone around her. She makes her own decisions and, by the end, builds up the courage to fight for what she wants. "The idea of Wonderland is kind of, in a surreal way, representative of, [in] some way, shape, or form, issues that she's dealing with in her own life," Tim Burton explains. Through her emotional journey, she becomes a really strong character. As Mia Wasikowska explains, "Her experience in Wonderland is her finding herself again and finding that she has the strength of being more self-assured."
Where will Alice go from here?
Alice in Wonderland never made a lasting impression on me as a kid. Aside from all the famous characters and a few memorable moments, this story was relatively new to me when I saw Tim Burton's version in theaters. Now, if I read the story again, I'll probably picture it through Tim Burton's lens, at least until May 2016. That's when, it has just been announced, Johnny will reprise his role as the Mad Hatter in a sequel to Alice in Wonderland, directed by somebody else! [Imagine dramatic music here.] I know! Details our sketchy, but as of now, the movie will be directed by James Bobin. He directed the last Muppets movie and he's a co-creator of "Flight of the Concords." I think I can live with that. Stay tuned for another two years!
The Kitties are always up for tea.
After falling down the rabbit hole, Alice (Lily) finds her way to the Mad Hatter's dilapidated tea party. A 10-year wait is a long time. She's terribly late, but now they can start their adventure!
Stop the presses! The world's biggest movie stars join forces as Johnny caps off the decade with Angelina Jolie in The Tourist.
Image credits: All Alice in Wonderland images © Disney; Tim Burton painting © Tim Burton; Johnny Depp paintings © Johnny Depp; illustration © Melissa Connolly.