Page last updated at 08:51 GMT, Friday, 5 March 2010

Alice returns to Burton's Wonderland

By Genevieve Hassan
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Alice in Wonderland
Johnny Depp and Mia Wasikowska star in the film

Tim Burton's fantastical, kaleidoscopic version of Alice In Wonderland nearly didn't get made.

"A few years ago I don't know if I would've been as intrigued [by the story]," he says.

"There's 20-something versions and I've never really connected to any of them."

In the end, it was the opportunity to create Lewis Carroll's trippy underworld in 3D that finally convinced the Edward Scissorhands director to sign up.

"The way the characters and images have infiltrated culture is so strong I thought it was an interesting challenge," he says.

"It seemed like a proper mix of the medium and material."

Burton's much hyped version of the classic children's tale is not a remake, but more of a sequel - blending together strands from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

"For me I knew the world of Alice not through books but from bands and other artists' interpretations, so to me I felt like it was open territory because it's in our culture," he explains.

Tim Burton and Mia Wasikowska
Wasikowska spent three months filming in front of green screens

The film finds Alice (Australian actress Mia Wasikowska) as a teenager who has all but forgotten about her first adventure in Wonderland - or Underland to give it its proper name, which she mis-heard as a child.

After ducking out of a marriage proposal, she follows the White Rabbit once again down the rabbit hole where she is reunited with the colourful cast of characters she met before - including Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter - played by Johnny Depp.

However, this time Alice finds herself at the centre of a prophecy to save Underland from the Red Queen's reign of terror by slaying the Jabberwocky.

'Iconic image'

Wasikowska acknowledges there was a certain amount of pressure taking on a character that is so well known and beloved by many people.

"We discussed that from the beginning and one of the things we wanted to do was take away some of the baggage that comes with being Alice in Wonderland and just find the teenage girl behind that iconic image and make her relatable," she says.

Burton's Wonderland is digitally constructed using a mixture of live-action performance, green-screen motion-capture and animation - all twisted into the director's dark and quirky style.

The Red Queen
Helena Bonham Carter stars as the Red Queen who has a penchant for chopping off heads

This meant 20-year-old Wasikowska spent three months filming her scenes in barren studios, having to imagine the fantastical world and characters that would be sketched in later.

For the actress, it was exciting to see the finished film so she could see whom she was acting with and where they were.

"For me it was 90% green so to actually see the character I was acting against and the locations I was in - all the weird things I had to do make sense now," she says.

"It's strange because when you're doing a scene with another actor you can bounce off their energy but when there are so many animated characters its hard to guess their energy so its all about trusting the director, which is easy to do with Tim."

'Power of belief'

Burton relied heavily on computer technology to give the film its look - creating improbable duelling dragonflies, and giving the Red Queen, played by Helena Bonham Carter, an enormous, bulbous head.

The actress - who is also Burton's partner - says she modelled her character, in part, on the couple's two-year-old daughter, Nell.

"She's a toddler tyrant," she laughs, adding that other elements of the Queen's demented personality were inspired by "Elizabeth I played by Bette Davies and then Joan Crawford in Mummy Dearest."

Depp helped define his character after researching hat makers discovering that many were affected by a disorder of the nervous system known as Hatters' Disease.

White Rabbit
My favourite thing is when the actors have to react to some monster, it's just some bloke with a long stick and a cross on the end so everyone knows what to look at.
Michael Sheen, who voices the White Rabbit

"They used this very toxic substance to glue the hats together and they ended up heavily poisoned," he says.

"This poison would manifest in different ways, some with a tourettes-like syndrome, some were personality disorders, some were even darker and weird.

"My approach to the character was just the idea of trying to go from extreme sides of the personality."

For the animated roles, a host of British actors also add their voices to the film including Matt Lucas (Tweedledum and Tweedledee), Stephen Fry (Cheshire Cat), Christopher Lee (Jabberwocky), Barbara Windsor (Dormouse) and Michael Sheen, who plays the White Rabbit.

The actors voiced their roles before the real computer wizardry began so, although Burton provided some character artwork, they had no idea what the final result would look like.

But Sheen says it was not too difficult to get into character.

"In some ways it's easy, it's more like being a kid - when you're playing with your friends you don't spend six months researching before saying 'I'm a pirate!'

"The power of belief and your imagination takes over," he says.

And, for all the technological wizardry used to bring Burton's vision to life, it was the cast's imaginations that impressed Sheen the most.

"My favourite thing is when the actors have to react to some monster, it's just some bloke with a long stick and a cross on the end so everyone knows what to look at.

"I love the fact it's so low-tech in the middle of this big film."

Alice In Wonderland is released on 5 March.

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