The Tim Burtonization of Alice in Wonderland Essay Example
The Tim Burtonization of Alice in Wonderland Essay Example

The Tim Burtonization of Alice in Wonderland Essay Example

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  • Pages: 5 (1341 words)
  • Published: May 17, 2017
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An essay on Alice in Wonderland Novel by Lewis Caroll Film adaptation by Tim Burton In 1962, film critic Andrew Sarris points out a repeating movement of ideas and images throughout a filmmaker’s body of work. This later on becomes the basis of Auteur theory which describes the authorship of the filmmaker who despite is working within the bounds of a studio system is able to imprint his/her ideologies and personal style into his/her films. According to Sarris, to be an auteur the filmmaker must be able to master three criteria: technique, style, and world view.

American filmmaker Tim Burton is one who definitely satisfies all three conditions. With his highly stylized films, including Batman (1989), Edward Scissorhands (1990) which is arguably his most remembered film, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Big Fish


(2003), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), and Sweeney Todd (2007), he has created a definition of the Tim Burton film that cuts across different genres, forms, and decades. In his latest film, Alice in Wonderland (2010), an adaptation of the Lewis Caroll classic, Burton confidently takes liberties to add another piece to his dark and quirky oeuvre.

An important theme in the Tim Burton body of work is alienation. Burton’s characters are generally outsiders, outcasts, misunderstood, and misperceived. It is the most original characteristic of his works. It is true to his personal quality as well. Burton draws inspiration from his childhood, who as growing up is described to be different from the others. He says so in some of his biographic interviews. It is not hard to understand this since even as an adult he does portray a differen

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look in the way he dresses or the way his hair remains unkempt.

It is as if every movie character he creates is an extension or a version of him. In Alice in Wonderland, Alice is shown as a misunderstood adolescent. On the physical, she looks like another teenage girl but on the inside, she is different. She refuses to act “normal”. She is against wearing corsets and stockings, and challenges what is considered proper. In dressing, she likens wearing a corset to wearing a codfish. Teenage alienation which speaks much of the auteur’s personal experiences is also featured in his iconic film, Edward Scissorhands. Edward, a young man who has blades for fingers, injures verything and everyone he touches. At a period in an adolescent’s life where touch is an important means of discovery and exploration, Edward cannot possibly feed his curiosity to touch. Burton plays with this irony not to show that being different is a crutch. Instead, he tells that what makes Alice and Edward special sets them apart—Alice’s creative imagination and strong will eventually make her lead the expansion of her father’s business in the Orient, while Edward’s scissor hands that can create interesting hairdos and plant sculptures eventually saves Kim, his love interest.

Alienation of Burton’s characters lead to isolation, specifically being detached from society and the real world. Alice shies away from social gatherings. If she can have her way, she prefers not going to the dance. She questions Hamish about the fondness in dancing quadrille and quickly slips away to daydream about men wearing corsets and women wearing trousers or fantasize about flying. Ultimately, when she is asked to marry

Hamish, she runs off, falls into a hole, and slips into the wonderland.

This is also reminiscent in Burton’s first short film, Vincent (1982). It is about a boy named Vincent Malloy, a pretty normal boy who isn’t pretty normal as well. Like Alice, he detaches himself from the real world by escaping into his lonesome, where he can create his delusions of horror, give homages to Edgar Allan Poe, and act like horror movie star Vincent Price. Alice’s otherness is rooted from her childhood days when she starts to dream of weird animals and creatures.

This disrupts her sleep and makes her wake in the middle of the night. The same dream haunts her over and over again up until adolescence. A troubled childhood is also indicative of Burton’s style. In Batman, an adaptation of the comic book and one of his first box-office successes, the outcast is the Caped Crusader himself. Witnessing his parents’ murder scars Bruce Wayne’s childhood. He then detaches himself from the world to retreat to a dark gothic place. He ensures that this injustice is never to happen again by being a vigilante hero.

However troubled, offbeat, and almost freak-like, Burton stresses that the outcast is the hero: Alice slays the Jabberwocky to end the Red Queen’s cruel rule; Edward kills Jim who brutally attacked him and Kim; and in Frankenweenie (1984), Burton’s second short film, Sparky the Frankenstein dog saves Victor, his owner, from a burning windmill. It is also interesting to note how in these three scenes of redemption, the hero flees into a tower-like structure to perform the final heroic act. Burton elevates the outcasts to a pedestal, to

celebrate them as the true heroes.

He locates his characters in two worlds—reality and fantasy, to develop the character’s awareness in which world he/she operates better. For Alice, the fantasy world helps her recognize her potential as a young lady and realize that she is destined to do more than just a Lord’s wife. The split worlds are important in showing the visual style of Burton. He creates a line between the perceived normal world and the make-believe world. The distinction between the two is explicit in terms of production design. For the “normal” world, Burton uses neutrals and pastels as the dominant colors.

In Alice in Wonderland, the color palette during the party at Lord Ascott’s estate is dominated by pastels. This scheme is also seen in the suburban setting of Edward Scissorhands. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie’s house is washed with brown tones. For Burton, the “normal” world is dull and boring hence, it appears as familiar as everyday life. But when he transports the audience to the fantasy world, the known Burton aesthetics which borrows much from gothic expressionism is seen. Alice’s wonderland looks like a hybrid of Edward’s castle and Wonka’s chocolate factory.

For his visual techniques, Burton draws heavy inspiration from German Expressionism and gothic aesthetics. He uses jagged architecture, angular lines, and shadows. Dark forests appear in Alice in Wonderland, Sleepy Hollow, and Big Fish. His fantasy worlds are remarkably less gleefully as one may expect. The bright colors are subdued by light and shadow. There’s an eerie feel with thick fog and the twisted tree branches. This composition stays true to the representation of alienation and isolation. It is

as if the sinister fantasy world welcomes the outcast character home.

The abnormal becomes familiar and inviting. Burton has also owned the black and white tile pattern as his visual aesthetic. Sometimes, the tile is modified into stripes. In Alice, he uses the pattern mainly in the fantasy world a quite a few times. The use of this pattern connotes the duality of ideas he presents: good and evil, light and dark, real and fantasy, normal and strange, & vice and virtue. His visual style is the primary and obvious mark of authorship in his films. Burton creates a misen-scene that at first glance is without a doubt his.

Down to the make-up of Alice, the Madhatter, and the Knave of Hearts, their deep-set dark eyes is similar to those of Edward Scissorhands’. It is the mastery of this aesthetic that he manages to create to films whether it may be live action or animation, musical or drama, an original or adapted screenplay, or his first or most recent work, that proves his genius of an auteur. Even if the original text of Alice in Wonderland is written centuries before, Burton takes a risk in reimagining it by adding his psyche and aesthetics. In the end, it pays off. Alice just got Tim Burtoned!

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