Disney’s Alice Through the Looking Glass is now in theaters everywhere! One of the key players in making the movie so good is its director James Bobin. Last week in Beverly Hills, I had a chance to meet with him and find out how he became involved with the film and what distinguishes Alice Through the Looking Glass from the original Alice in Wonderland.
James had been doing a lot of traveling in the previous week to promote the film – everywhere from England to Madrid to New York to Japan – and now LA. He said it was nice for him to finally show the film to people because he lived with it for a very long time by himself in a small room in Burbank. Now he is able to show people the thing he was doing all that time. That time involved the three years since his first conversation about the film all the way up to only about a month ago when he finished QC’ing (quality control) the final 3-D images.
This isn’t James first stint working for Disney. He directed Muppets movies for them in the past. While on set with the Muppets, Executive Vice President of Production Kristin Burr was discussing future ideas and mentioned the world Alice. James said, “of course I jumped at that because I grew up in England and so alice is like part of your life – like she’s someone you know really well. She’s like Christopher Robin – just part of your make-up. My parents read it to me. I read it as a kid. My grandparents read it to me. Everyone has it. I did the same with my children. In my kids playroom we have a poster from the British library which is the front piece of the original manuscript….So we love Alice in our family.”
When James read Lewis Carroll as a kid, he always made him laugh with his witty way of writing and his clever use of language. James has a long history with comedy (Muppets, Da Ali G Show, Flight of the Conchords) so it felt like a very natural thing for him to try and use that in the world of Alice. He commented that Tim Burton’s world is so beautifully constructed but “I thought if I came on that I could kind of bring some of that British comedy back a bit…. I think sequels need to be different. It’s nice to pay tribute and make sure you respect the origins of the story and the characters, but people want to see something which is a progression, or something new, or with a different sight, feel or tone.”
Besides the addition of comedy, James pointed out that the design of Alice Through the Looking Glass is a bit different too. The palettes are a little bit brighter. The story itself is very much about the human relations and the family and so they used a lot more “photo real” design, like the world is more Victorian in some ways. Said James, “When I was a kid growing up, the books I read were illustrated by John Tenniel with unbelievably beautiful engraving and that, to me, was where the world where Alice lived. So, when I was talking with Dan Hennah, our production designer, about the world I asked him to look at Tenniel’s drawings – all the characters in the foreground and what’s behind them. That is the world I want to create for this.”
The most challenging aspect of making Alice Through the Looking Glass was that it’s not the story of the book, which he knew it could never be because he loved the book very dearly. “Even as a kid I realized that it’s quite an unusual story because Lewis Carroll wasn’t that concerned with narrative. He liked imagery and ideas. Things happen. Then other things happen. And the seem very consequential. It’s only cause and effect. I knew that for a film it would make an interesting avant-garde movie, but I’m not sure I could do that in this situation.”
“So, I knew the story would be a new story. I knew that Linda [screenwriter, Woolverton] had an idea about time travel based on the characters from before, but at the same time I wanted to pay tribute to the book. The book is incredibly important. And Lewis Carroll is very important to me. So, I wanted to take elements of the book like the backwards room and obviously the looking glass and the characters and the spirit of Lewis Carroll – the idea of something which is fairly complex but not so complex that my 8-year-old daughter wouldn’t understand it.”
ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS is in theaters everywhere now!