Twenty-five years after his first feature film (Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure) director Tim Burton has continued to defy categorization, delving into animation, comic books, musicals and ghost stories.
But one thing has remained constant: his focus on outsiders, from Pee-Wee to Sweeney Todd to Batman to Beetejuice. And in Disney’s big-budget, 3-D Alice in Wonderland, Burton takes on one of literature’s ultimate outsiders. Burton sat down with Metro to talk about growing pains, going 3-D and the eerie youthfulness of Pee-Wee Herman.
What made you want to take on Alice in Wonderland?
All the other film versions always suffered from a similar problem: They were always very cold and about this precocious brat and a bunch of weird characters, and it always felt very distancing. And yet there’s something about those characters that just stays in your subconscious. You look at Tom Petty videos and Jefferson Airplane and all these illustrators. It keeps coming up in other people’s work.
What was the thinking behind the idea of making Alice older?
The idea was setting her at this time in life when when you just don’t feel right. You feel awkward. You don’t feel like a child, you don’t feel like an adult. It just felt really right from a psychological point of view.
How do you think Alice fits in with your history of outsider characters?
It’s more internal and more quiet, but I understood her in the sense of feeling that awkwardness at that time of life. It’s kind of sad, actually. You don’t really fit one way or another. There’s that melancholy, and I related to that. You don’t have to be a boy or a girl to have those feelings. It’s universal.
What brought about the decision to make this in 3-D?
It was presented to me. Disney said ‘What about Alice in Wonderland in 3-D? The combination of the two, that hit me. It’s not a gimmick. For me, it’s just another element. You could do My Dinner with Andre in 3-D. It doesn’t have to be in your face. It can be subtle. The medium is important. I held out for 10 years for Nightmare Before Christmas so it could be stop-motion. I could’ve done it in cell animation or other things, but that felt right. Ed Wood felt right to shoot in black and white. Because of the trippy nature of Alice and because of the spatial thing and how 3-D draws you into it, it seemed to fit.
You keep coming back to work with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.
I don’t go out of my way to do that too much. With Johnny, we would never go, “Let’s just work together to work together.” It’s too important to try to do something good to do that. And I’d say the same with Helena. I wouldn’t work with her just to work with, because actually it’s harder. But you know, when she’s right for something you want to give her the benefit of the doubt. And she’s good. I enjoy her performance in this.