When I went to Los Angeles last month for the #ThroughTheLookingGlassEvent I had an opportunity to sit down with Director James Bobin. James Bobin is an English film director, writer, and producer. He directed the feature films The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted, as well as Alice Through the Looking Glass.
James Bobin started working on Alice Through the Looking Glass back in 2013. It’s been approximately 3 years since the very first conversation he had about the film. James Bobin grew up in England, so when he was offered the chance to direct Alice, he jumped on board. “Alice is like part of your life. Like she’s just someone who you know really well. She’s like Christopher Robin. Or she’s just like part of your makeup. And like for me, my parents read it to me. I read it as a kid. My grandparents read it to me. Everyone has it. And so for me, I did the same with my children. I have in my kid’s playroom, we have a poster from the British library, which is the frontest piece of the original manuscript that her fetches underground. Just a copy. But it’s beautiful. So it’s like the thing he wrote for Alice Little. And it’s the first page. And it has his little drawings, which are very different to the way you think she’s gonna look…And it’s really pretty. So we love Alice in our family.”
James was really excited about being the director for Alice Through the Looking Glass. He had a clear idea of who she was going to be in the film… Alice was growing up. James thought Lewis Carroll had a very witty way of writing and very clever with language. Tim Burton used Lewis Carroll’s vision as a foundation to start from… and James was hoping to bring some of that British comedy back a bit.
When making the sequel, James knew it needed to be different. It needed to “pay tribute and make sure you respect the origins of the story and the characters. But people want to see generally something which is a progression or something new or if it has a different sight, feel or tone.” When working on Alice Through the Looking Glass they changed the design. The palettes are a little brighter and the story itself are much more about the human relations and the family.
Time is a strong theme in the movie. Having worked with Sacha Baron Cohen before on Borat, Ali G, and Bruno, James knew he was a brilliant actor. “You always try to think of ways of getting him back involved in things you’re doing.” To create a new character for this world where you have iconic characters like the Mad Hatter, Alice, and the Red Queen is a very difficult job. Sacha stepped into the role and made people believe who he was. Time was a character that Lewis Carroll created…In the book Alice in Wonderland he talks about time as a person. James only borrowed him from the book.
“Hatter says when he very first meets Alice at the tea party, he’s kinda stuck and he says to her I’ve been stuck here since last month where Time and I quarreled. And I thought that is a brilliant idea for a character. In Wonderland Lewis Carroll thinks time is not just an idea but a man, a person. And so that would be a very useful character to have in this film. And it felt very right for the movie to have a new character and that it would be Lewis Carroll’s idea.”
Since the film already had a “bad guy,” the Red Queen, it didn’t need another one. So Time wasn’t evil, he was just a powerful obstacle for Alice. “Plus I thought that if you’re gonna do a time travel movie it’d be nice and very British to have to ask permission to having free time. You have to go to somebody then, please, may I borrow your Chronosphere? That’s a very English way of doing time travel.” In the film, Mirana tells Alice that if she wants to save the Hatter’s family, she must speak to Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) and use the Chronosphere, a powerful device that travels through time that only Alice can use since she is not originally part of Wonderland. She shows Alice how to get to Time’s castle, which is located inside a grandfather clock. Alice sneaks into the castle and sees Time go into a room full of pocket watches. Time pulls off the watch of one man, saying his time is up. Time spots Alice, who asks him to help her save her friend’s family, but Time says the past cannot be changed.
We all make mistakes. The question is, did we learn from our mistakes? Time is not our enemy.
“Sacha’s very good at playing the sort of over confident idiot. And that was a very good character trait for him.” James and Sacha spoke in depth about Time and who he was. “And so with Time, it’s like how he holds himself, his walk, how he sits…And Sacha could do pretty much anything. And we thought that, time as a concept is a kind of Swiss idea, like clockmakers etceteras. And in Switzerland there are two language. There’s French and German. And we thought German was quite precise in its language. And that was a very good thing for Time too. And then we thought, well, you can’t just do a basic, German, you have to do something fun with it.”
The most challenging aspect of the film was the story itself. “The story is challenging because it’s not the story of the book, which I knew it would never because I loved the book very dearly. But 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, ideas, and the book kind of falls in on itself deliberately. Things happen. And then other things happen. And they seem very consequential. It’s only cause and effect. And so I knew that for a film would make an interesting avante guarde 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 Linda had an idea about the time travel movie based on the characters from before. But at the same time I wanted to pay tribute to the book. The book’s incredibly important.”
Lewis Carroll is very important to James and he wanted to take some of the elements of the book like the backwards room , the looking glass, the characters and the spirit of Lewis Carroll. He helped spin a story and idea of something fairly complex into a story that even child would understand. The plot was like a puzzle in a way.
There are little touches and hints in the movie that nod to Lewis Carroll’s book. Things you may notice right away and some things may go unseen. Some of the more noticeable things are like when Alice she goes into the backwards room for the first time with the chess match in progress. The chess match is in the original Alice Through the Looking Glass book. It’s the very beginning of the book prior to the title page is there is a layout of the chess game in progress. “So the chess game in progress in the book is the same chess game in progress in the backwards room.” This little things were very important to James. “I liked the fact the mantle piece clock in the room is the same mantle piece clock that John Tenniel drew in 1871. So those little touches mean a lot.”
Another Fun Fact…Gloucester Docks is where they filmed The Wonder coming into the docks. It felt more like what East India Dock would’ve looked like in 1871 when at the time when London was the busiest port in the world. They had to dredge the dock to get The Wonder in.
Have you seen Alice Through the Looking Glass yet? I was so excited when the principal at my school took the academic achievers to the movies last week and saw Alice Through the Looking Glass. All of the kids and parent volunteers LOVED the movie! It was a wonderful way to celebrate their success this semester.
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Alice Through The Looking Glass is playing in theaters everywhere!!!
Read More About My Amazing Trip To LA
I was invited by Disney to attend an all expenses paid trip to cover the #ThroughTheLookingGlassEvent & #ZootopiaBluRay in LA on 5/22-5/24. All opinions are my own.