I have my reservations about the upcoming Tim Burton film based on Lewis Carroll’s novels, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.” Of course, I’m a stick-in-the-mud where this subject is concerned; I think filmmakers should be original and stop appropriating the classics. As I have written here with respect to Charles Dickens’ story “A Christmas Carol,” I have some patience with producers and directors who try to faithfully transfer a classic tale from print to the screen or stage, but they seldom do that without succumbing to the temptation to change what the author wrote.
Already Burton has changed the beginning of the story. He has replaced Carroll’s image of Alice lapsing into a dream while her sister reads to her on a summer day to Alice running away to avoid an anticipated marriage proposal. The young, wide-eyed Alice of Carroll’s story — and the real Alice Liddell who inspired the character — is now a sophisticated 17-year-old girl played by a 19-year-old actress, Linda Woolverton.
What makes a person like Tim Burton think he can tell Lewis Carroll’s story better than Carroll told it?
I am interested in the casting of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. Burton seems bent on capturing the dark undertones — including insanity — that Carroll employed in his stories, and Depp is well equipped to bring to life one of the most insane characters of all. This aspect of the books has been explored before — for example in the 1985 film “Dreamchild,” a fanciful recollection of Alice Liddell Hargreaves’ visit to Columbia University in 1932 for an observance of Carroll’s centenary.
As did other tinkerers before him, Burton also combines Carroll’s two novels into the one production, as though each did not have its own integrity in Lewis’s mind and in fact.
It disappoints me that a generation of children — along with much of the generation that gave them birth — will see Burton’s film and accept it as a fair representation of Carroll’s work — missing out on all the satire and word games, tortured philsophy and twisted logic that made the Alice books the standard by which all such books would be measured.
But I suppose that’s less an indictment against Tim Burton than it is another sign of how time has passed me by.