The Madness of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland

My fellow anglophiles, can we not agree that there is something decidedly British about Tim Burton? I don’t mean in the sense that he shares a stylist with Robert Smith or that his wife is British. (Is Helena Bonham Carter even properly, legally his wife? I assume so, but I’m also pretty sure that Burton and Danny Elfman have been secretly married since Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.) I mean in the sense that his vision of the world is fearlessly bleak regardless of the fact that his usual demographic favors the young and the young at heart. A lot of people decried Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but the film masterfully skewered the meanness and spite of the adult world that Roald Dahl consistently vilified. Burton is not afraid to scare your kids. I’m living proof. I love it now, but ten-year-old me had to sleep with lights on after one viewing of The Nightmare Before Christmas.

There is always hope—usually only for the innocent—in a Tim Burton production, but he won’t sugarcoat the fact that the world is, in a word, terrifying. So, naturally, I am 100% in favor of a Burton production of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Wonderland has long been a euphemism for the sort of organized madness at which Burton excels. We may be lured into theaters with the promise of yet another out-sized Johnny Depp performance as the Mad Hatter, or the thrill of the always fabulous Alan Rickman smoking up as the Caterpillar, but make no mistake: Tim Burton is trying to induce in each and every person who goes to see his movie a permanent psychotic break.

Why else would he stuff both Christopher Lee—whose voice alone can weaken the bladders of grown men—and Crispin Glover (Crispin Hellion Glover) into his film and then put them in your face by distributing Alice in the awful glory of 3D? Christopher Lee landed the role of Dracula in the 1950s by actually being a vampire. I defy anyone to prove otherwise. You probably imagine that I exaggerate when I say that the only reason Crispin Glover is not universally recognized as the anti-Christ is that he lacks cloven hooves. (That I know of. Not that I ever wanted to be close enough to him to find out, thank you so much, Tim Burton.)

And Tim Burton wants them both to be there with you as you follow Alice through Wonderland. Crispin Glover is playing the Knave of Hearts. Unless the Knave of Hearts stole the tarts and then used to smother a bunch of kittens, Crispin Glover is being wasted on the role. (He frightens me, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a good actor.) Christopher Lee’s role has not been announced. Here’s hoping for something relatively benign like Dodo—a role so completely complimentary to and utterly beneath his dignity that his menace at the production can be subsumed into the part.

If these guys are the bit players, though, who is Burton bringing on board for major and majorly mad characters like the Cheshire Cat or the March Hare? Bizarrely, the role of the most readily recognizable denizen of Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat, has gone to the mild, unassuming Michael Sheen (lately seen playing Tony Blair in everything). It makes me tremble to wonder if Johnny Depp and Alan Rickman are offset by Christopher Lee and Crispin Glover, who is the natural counterpoint to Michael Sheen? Who else evinces the particular brand of squirm-in-your-seat repulsion to an equal but opposite degree to Sheen’s purposeful calm? Perhaps Sheen’s antagonist in the lamentable Underworld series, the scenery-shredding Bill Nighy? Consider Geoffrey Rush, who was once the Marquis de Sade; he and Johnny Depp have history (and chemistry) and he has no shame (see: House on Haunted Hill), which is a bonus. Burton cannot possibly pass up the excellently repulsive Jackie Earle Haley for some role. After seeing Little Children, I am not comfortable with the idea of the guy who played a convincing pedophile stepping into a role such as the White Rabbit. Except that Burton doesn’t appear to be looking to make anyone comfortable, a; and b, what is the White Rabbit if not a dangerous distraction intended to lure away an innocent girl into a realm of terror and madness?

Burton has said that he views Lewis Carroll’s work as being like “drugs for children.” If he continues in this casting vein (or takes any or all of my suggestions), I’m pretty sure the film will require children to be on serious drugs for a few years to come. Maybe that’s what he meant.

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