“It’s so very nice to show the film to people because I lived with it for so long”.
James Bobin smiled at this, obviously quite proud of his directorial work on Alice Through the Looking Glass (in theaters everywhere).
“It’s just a nice part of it is to kind of let it go and just show people the thing you’ve been doing all this time”.
James is no stranger to directing, with credits including The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted, and Flight of the Conchords as well as the just announced MIB23. But Alice Through the Looking Glass was one that he was especially excited about.
“Kristin Burr (Disney executive) she was talking about things they were thinking about doing. And she mentioned the word Alice to me. And of course I jumped at that because I grew up in England. And so Alice is like part of your life. Like she’s just someone who you know really well. She’s like Christopher Robin”.
Like James, Alice has been part of my DNA practically since birth. His childhood mirrors (ha) mine as he goes on:
“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, the Lewis Carrol drawings for Alice Little. And it’s really pretty. So we love Alice in our family”.
To James it felt like the natural thing to do (to be a part of Alice Through the Looking Glass). The foundation Tim Burton started with 2010’s Alice in Wonderland was a great legacy to start with, but to James it needed to be a little different, so he added some elements of dry British humour and a progression of the characters, all while paying homage the groundwork Burton laid.
“You’ll notice that in the design it’s a bit different. The palettes are a little bit brighter. The story itself is very much about the human relations and the family. And so we have a lot more photo real design. Like the world is more Victorian in some ways. And that’s partly because when I was a kid growing up, the books are illustrated John Tenniel, who’s like an unbelievably beautiful engraving. And that to me was where the world where Alice lived”.
Working with Sacha Baron Cohen was something Bobin looked forward to. They worked extensively on the runaway hit Borat back in 2006, as well as Ali G and Bruno. Sacha was a natural choice as the role of Time.
“I knew he had it in him. It was just a question of kind of working out what that guy was gonna be like. Sacha’s very good at playing the sort of over confident idiot. And that was a very good character for him. The film Sweeney Todd was very much inspiration for us. I watched that movie I loved his character in that. And obviously he plays with Johnny. So that feels like that world fit into this one neatly. And if you’re gonna work with Helena and Johnny as he has many times – he fits into the universe already. So that was a good start because to raise your performance to match the levels of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter is not easy to do”.
While filming Borat, Sacha would envelop himself into the character, not washing his suit, chewing Kazakh gum and using a Kazakh newspaper. Bobin knew he wanted to use that trait in Sacha – to completely become the character of Time.
“It’s how he holds himself, his walk, how he sits. Sacha could do pretty much any accent. And we thought that ‘time’ as a concept is a kind of Swiss idea, like clock makers. 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 accent, you have to do something fun with it.”
When it came to paying respect to the original Alice books, James thought of one thing – imagery. Lewis Carroll was very avant garde in his writing and the book “falls in on itself deliberately”. He wanted snippets of the books in the film.
“When she goes into the backwards room for the first time with the chess match in progress, the very beginning of the book prior to the title page is a layout is of the chess game in progress. So there’s those kind of things that are very important to me. 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”.