‘Alice in Wonderland’ screenwriter is ready for haters: ‘It’s audacious, what we’ve done’

Feb. 08, 2010 | 8:26 p.m.


Are you ready for a trip down the rabbit hole? Tim Burton, Johnny Depp and Disney are adding a strange new chapter to the Lewis Carroll classic with “Alice in Wonderland,” a film that presents a young woman who finds herself in the world of the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and the Red Queen. She is welcomed as a returning visitor — but is she, in fact, the same Alice who roamed the trippy realm as a child? Time will tell. Here at the Hero Complex, we’re counting down to the film’s March 5 release with daily coverage. Today, it’s a conversation with Linda Woolverton, the screenwriter whose previous credits include the Disney hits “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King.”

Alice in Wonderland


Geoff Boucher: One of the challenges of adapting Lewis Carroll is the meandering nature of Alice’s adventures, which don’t lend themselves to the imperatives of a feature film. Your story for this “Alice in Wonderland,” though, is very different from the familiar tale. It’s almost a sequel to the classic story, isn’t it?

Linda Woolverton: I wasn’t really thinking of it that way at all, but actually that is exactly what it is. It’s a sequel. First of all, I wasn’t going to try to redo Lewis Carroll and that particular version. And to my mind, it was interesting to ask, “What if Alice was older and she went back?” That was sort of why I engaged this project at all. That idea and the challenge of it.

GB: You must have immersed yourself in the classic and its imagery just to prepare….

Alice illo

LW: I did. I read both “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There” and I found that the biggest challenge for me would be tone. I wanted to honor the work, and I felt that to do that, it would be necessary to get the tone just right. It was an enormous challenge for me.

GB: How did you come to the project?

LW: I had that idea, the concept of her being older and going back, and I had mulled it over for quite a while. Then [producers] Suzanne and Jennifer Todd and Joe Roth asked if I had any ideas. And I told them I did, and I pitched it to them. Then Joe took the idea of it to Disney. After I wrote the first draft, Tim Burton read it and signed on. I’ve seen all of his films, and I’ve been so in awe of him, like everybody else, a fan, just like everybody else. You see his signature everywhere in his work. So when I got a chance to work with him, I was nervous, honestly. I’ve been lucky in my career to work with amazing and talented people, but Tim pretty much tops the list. I didn’t know what it would be like working with him, but I found it to be the best experience I’ve ever had in the business. He asks you the question and makes you go figure out the answer as opposed to telling you the answer. What that does for you, as a writer, is that the work comes from you as opposed to coming from the outside. He did a great job too giving the characters more color, particularly the Mad Hatter. He worked with me a lot on the Hatter to make him a richer, deeper character so you empathize with him more.

Linda Woolverton

GB: After Burton was on board, did you find yourself tilting your work and writing toward Burton’s well-known sensibilities? In other words, did you go from writing an “Alice” project to writing a Tim Burton movie?

LW: Hmm. That’s funny. Um, no, not really, and the reason is it was already in that weird, wild Lewis Carroll place anyway, which is kind of perfect for Tim Burton. So I continued in the tone I was in. I think.

GB: It must be very exciting for you to see the dramatic visuals that have sprung from the pages you wrote. I know that’s the nature of being a screenwriter, but in this case it seems like it would be pretty exciting.

LW: It’s thrilling. And it’s everywhere, on every bus that goes by. It’s very exciting for me. I’m not an artist, I don’t have a great visual sense. I’m a writer, so I see it in my mind, but I’m not talented in any great visual way. So it’s an honor, actually, to see something I kind of had in my head come to a full-blown, 3D fruition and from the mind of Tim Burton. For a writer, it doesn’t get any better.

GB: Tell us about some of the major departures from the Carroll world as we know it. Have you created major characters from whole cloth?

LW: Two things are major departures, I’d say. There’s the concept of the Oraculum, which is a never-ending calendar that is sort of an oracle. Every day in Wonderland is never the same as the day before. The days don’t repeat, like Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. They just go on. Every day has a new name. Like Frabjous Day. The idea of the Oraculum, which tells everyone what is going to happen on that particular day, that isn’t anywhere in the original works. That was created out of whole cloth and it gives us a ticking clock on the story. The other thing is, I created a dog character and his family that helps Alice throughout the story. He’s a hound dog and he kind of betrays the Hatter originally, and then he feels really badly about it, and then he assists Alice in the rest of the story. His family is being held hostage, and then in the end … well, let’s not spoil it.


GB: Did you use chunks of Carroll’s writing in certain signature sequences — weaving it in with your new narrative?

LW: The characters are from the books,  but — except for when she falls down the rabbit hole — there is no section that is like the books in any way, in terms of the story that I created. So the only part is the “getting there” part. More than anything else, I was influenced by the Jabberwocky poem. The poem, if you know it, it’s not written in any kind of language you really understand. That’s where the [dragon-like] Jabberwocky character comes from, which Alice has to slay. That’s where the Bandersnatch comes from. That’s where we got the influence for the tone of Outlandish, the language that we created. The Vorpal sword came from there too. That poem was a launching pad for me, really. The Jabberwocky actually influenced me more than the two books.

GB: That’s very interesting and somewhat surprising. It brings to mind, too, the fact that not everyone will  embrace the changes and choices you’ve made. This isn’t the original story, but it is called by the now-familiar name “Alice in Wonderland” — do you expect a portion of your audience to be displeased with the disconnect?

LW: I’m sure they will be. It’s audacious, what we’ve done. I don’t know know where I got off. What was I thinking? [Laughs] I’m not joking, I was thinking when I was writing this, “Who do you think you are?” Seriously! At one point, I was in London, it was over Christmas, and I was writing, and I had been out walking in Hyde Park, and I ran up against a statue of Lewis Carroll. And I thought, “Linda, really, what have you got yourself into?” I can only say at this point that I wasn’t trying to re-create his work. If anything, I hope that the movie inspires children who haven’t read the books to go back and read the books.

— Geoff Boucher


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Burton on past “Alice” films: “There wasn’t anything underneath”

Tim Burton on working with Depp on a darker “Alice”

Frank Beddor takes “Alice” to a stranger Wonderland

Images: First, Tim Burton’s vision in “Alice in Wonderland” (Walt Disney Studios); second and fourth image, illustrations by John Tenniel for the writings of Lewis Carroll. Third image, a photograph of screenwriter Linda Woolverton (Credit: David Burke)


25 Responses to ‘Alice in Wonderland’ screenwriter is ready for haters: ‘It’s audacious, what we’ve done’

  1. Land o' Rash says:

    Hungry, girl? = http://bit.ly/clNbbd

  2. DNA says:

    If they changed the story but still called it "Alice in Wonderland" then that's a bunch of bull—-. Alice is older and goes back to wonderland??? Really? pfffft! And to try to explain the mechanics of wonderland by inventing the notion of some stupid magical crazy calendar is right up there with Lucas' detectable force particles in peoples' blood. It can look great and even be acted great, but if it is really a "sequal" as she calls it, then get ready for it to be panned and hated. I will be one of the haters.
    PS. Remember how great that Robin Williams Peter Pan remake/redo/sequal was? Yeah, didn't think so…

  3. hollowex says:

    So this is just expensive fan-fiction.

  4. R says:

    Does anyone else see the similarities to The Looking Glass Wars in this film??

  5. Michael says:

    Alice in Wonderland was a perfect story, why someones ego feels the need to change it is pathetic. She ruined the movie

  6. dean says:

    I sure agree with Land o'Rush… why call it "Alice In Wonderland" when it's not and if it's not, then why bother? Burton and Wolverton may be very talent people, but compete with Carroll?I don't think so. Hubris at best. Stupid more likely. A sequel? Carroll did that too. It was called "Through the Looking Glass". Been there, done that. I won't hate the movie, I just won't see it. I'll reread the books again, though, for perhaps the 40th time.

  7. ann says:

    LOL "Ruined" something you haven't seen?
    The only person to lose out by not seeing the film… will be you.

  8. diego duran says:

    your all just being stubborn, babies. not to the movie's writer or burton but to the idiots that wrote these other comments. you can't just dismiss a movie cause it looks like a 'sequel'. dear god, no wonder america is so jacked up. people are so arrogant these days. about the movie, eh im not crazy that she had to change alot, but im not gonna dismiss the movie or anything. i will watch it, see how it goes. but one thing IS sure that no one here really argued about while you were pouting. NO WORK WIL BE LIKE SIR cARROL'S. It can't be. if we all had the same imagination, life would be very,very,very boring.

  9. Jeffrey Gerard says:

    Yuck. I've read just enough to know that I now have no interest in seeing another Tim Burton mess. He ruined Willie Wonka with his creepy, pervy feel. Now it's Alice's turn.

  10. artfulgal says:

    Why can't you enjoy something for what it is … why all the comparisons, he said it wasn't "Alice", would you enjoy it if it was named something else?
    Enjoy what is.

  11. Mariana says:

    To everybody who keeps saying, "Why bother calling it 'Alice in Wonderland'", etc, guess what? The original book isn't even called that!
    It's called Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, so calm your ass down. And what, people aren't allowed to take artistic liberties anymore? The new Star Trek movie was a complete revamp and departed from the original storyline, and a lot of remakes, or movies based off of books are incredibly different from the original. This has a lot of characters from Through the Looking-Glass as well, which was the sequel to the book. The screenwriter herself said it's what would happen if Alice came back years later. They aren't trying to remake the original story, so get off your high horse. When you're making movies in Hollywood and making millions of dollars off of them, I'll consider your argument, but until then, and until you've seen the movie yourself, shut your mouth.

  12. S says:

    What I don't appreciate is the disregard for the true source of these "new elements" in the film. The Jabberwocky and Vorpal blade were present in the videogame, American McGee's Alice, which was released in 2000. Originally, when this film was being marketed with the darker elements, I assumed it was based from the game. I was disappointed to find out it was not and now I am even more disappointed to see those who were involved in the film's process not giving credit where it is due.
    As for a sequel, I don't think there's anything wrong with this concept. Who wants to see a repeat of the same old classic we know and love? If you want Alice in Wonderland, it already exists. A new spin on Wonderland is a great idea. I'm sure Burton will prove to have created another great movie. I do agree that Willy Wonka was poorly executed, but I have faith yet.

  13. Joss says:

    I'm just thrilled knowing all this and i won't hate it, really, why bother?, i'll just watch all the color and imagination of burtons and this writter, all this people complaining about this work, really? do you all think can do it better? please… I'm always hearing complains about: why doing remakes? this is the exact movie as the last one, why no one has the imatination of doing something new! blah blah blah… Well… this is IT, something fresh and new inspired on the work of Mr. Carroll. Thoughts?

  14. Zack says:

    For everyone freaking out about Burton changing the movie, it isn't based on Alice's first trip to wonderland the movie is more closely based on Carrol's second book featuring Alice, Through the Looking Glass. So it wasn't an egotistical move just a different one than what was originally expected. I personally am super excited for the movie, I love Tim Burton and all of his movies, not to mention Alice in Wonderland is one of my favorite childhood movies.

  15. Movies says:

    He disappoints me. He's far better at applying a gothic feel to a movie which is not dark than actually making a dark, creepy movie. Edward Scissorhands and Big Fish are leaps and bounds above the rest of his work. Sweeney Todd, his darkest and most violent movie, is also his worst.
    He and Martin Scorsese need to branch out a little and cast different actors once in a while…

  16. TimBurtonsBiggestFan says:

    Why do you people click on the frigging link if your gonna badmouth it?!
    Its amazing that poeple like Twitard and love that movie so much but they dismiss this!
    Tim Burton is amazing and if you cant see that then i'm sorry
    but you have no brains. Go and watch your sappy corny vamp tramp movies and leave us TRUE tim burton fans to enjoy this

  17. Locke says:

    No need to hate nor to worship. This is a feature film; a business venture.
    You pay $13 to be (or not to be) entertained for two hours.
    Will it be worth my $13? I'm pretty sure it will. 3D and the standard action-shots with snappy dialogue and some storybook suspense thrown in are a solid guarantee.
    Will I want to see this movie again, or consider it a work of art? No, because it is an adaptation that (due to the rigid money-dictated framework of a film) cannot hope to approach Carroll's genius.
    I expect the movie to be Hollywood enough to be worth the ticket & time; and Hollywood enough to be easily forgotten. And certainly nothing like the original Alice.
    But who expects more?

  18. ZEKE says:

    In my opinion, I think the screen writer was just doing her job the best way she can. Being a writer means to create a story or take something old and give it a new twist. That is all she is doing.
    Judging by the trailers, Linda did a great job with 'Alice in Wonderland' in the way she added a few things and adjusting the tone of the movie, without ripping it apart.
    And another thing, WHAT IS UP WITH ALL THESE HATERS. My advice to them is to go and make a movie, then bring it back so we can all see it.
    Making a movie is a MASSIVE headache and the people in Hollywood know this. It involves alot of creative influence and input. So once again, before you go PSYCHO on people, think of all the hardwork.

  19. The Mock Turtle says:

    The movie had so many things right. The animation was fantastic. Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway were perfect. Linda and her ego left Lewis Carroll completely out of his own story, since she's taking credit for it.
    This movie should be retitled; Burtons' AIW inspired animation vs. Woolverton's big head. Where were the riddles, the rhymes, the poetry, the wit? The actors were kind enough to channel the story, sorry they couldn't do more with it. I went to see Carroll's story. This movie is like covering a rap song without the lyrics or the rhythm- what was the point of doing the cover to begin with?
    Linda Woolverton's work appeals to pretentious drones with intellect of a 3 year old.
    Did she get hired for her ability to write a full sentence with verbs and adjectives? Is there no other writer in the biz who can do that much? Was she the only English speaking writer in town? I would've learned another language to watch this if they would've used Lewis Carroll's story line.
    I will NEVER watch another movie written by her.

  20. Ed Radder says:

    Ready for the haters, eh? Brace yourself.
    MOVIEGOERS: Do not have high expectations of this film, and be wary of dropping the money on a high-priced 3D ticket. My gripes:
    -It was incredibly formulaic. We didn't even make it halfway through the movie before the protagonist passed on the obligatory kid-movie Inspirational Quote from Inspirational Parent to the Conflicted Supporting Character.
    -The characters barely existed, utterly lacking depth and coherence. Screenwriting 101: create a character, then a conflict. The digitally rendered bloodhound is barely on screen 10 seconds before he says "I just want my wife and kids back." There is literally nothing else to this dog besides his interrupted fatherhood. Also, you would think that with a setting of unhinged fantasy and imagination, the writer could cook up a conflict that didn't come straight out of every Harrison Ford film from the 1990s.
    -The audience is plopped down in medias res to a totally irrelevant frame narrative. The resolution of the frame narrative at the end of the film was so irrelevant it actually created a tangible awkward silence in the theater.
    -Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp were the only interesting things on screen until the credits rolled. Anne Hathaway's extremely campy portrayal of the White Queen was amusing for .5 seconds, and then it catapulted into the utmost reaches of grating-ness.
    -Do not be deceived by those that suggest that this film is worth seeing just for the visuals, with the plot fading pleasantly into the background, like it did with Avatar. While it is beautifully imagined and presented, the extremely dark palette of the world combined with the inherent tint of the 3D glasses had me and everyone else in the theater taking them off and rubbing their eyes throughout the film.
    To the screenwriter: Learn to workshop. Anyone with the barest writing education could have stopped this travesty. Yes, you're going to ride to fiduciary success on the great leviathan of the Disney Marketing Machine, but know that you have crafted an utterly sub-par screenplay.

  21. Monique says:

    It's nice to read the ideas behind the script, even if I think the script itself didn't work. I wonder what the scriptwriter thinks of her work now that the movie and reviews have come out.

  22. Free Movies says:

    I was really spell bound after watching Alice in Wonderland. Its really a 3D film.

  23. eric Perez says:

    Dear Mr Burton,
    Ok, ok, we hint you started backwards giving us part II; You still have to deliver Alice in wonderland I; and please now get it straight,you have all the needed talent,just do us a favor, get the right screen writer (what about a British that speaks the language and gets the inuendos?).

  24. […] With new copy in hand, I scour it diligently, relishing the opportunity to read the stories again. I see a reference to “muchness” but not this line or context. I go back to my old beaten up copy to see if it might be there. Nothing. Feeling like I’ve gone down the rabbit hole myself, at last, I realize that the line is only in the Tim Burton film which (I did not know) is a newly written script and picks up with Alice at an older age from Carroll’s stories. (In my research, I also learned that screenwriter Linda Woolverton was not thought highly of in some quarters for tinkering with Carroll’s story.) […]

  25. gina says:

    I came to this page because I have watched Alice in Wonderland now about 30 times and I wanted to see who the Screenwriter was who I so admire. This movie is Literary Art. It honors and draws from Lewis Carroll's imagination, with enduring themes and archetypes that make this movie an experience of true transformation. It is one of the few stories I know of that so poignantly deals with the many layers within a female's inner psyche and the complex transformation she is capable of within the world. The script is full of symbolism and irony that keeps on emerging with each viewing. It is a story of the "hero journey" that captivates, whether you are male or female. It is a story about being human–. Linda Woolverton did a beautiful job. Thank you to her.

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