I saw the Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland a couple of weeks ago. And it left me kind of annoyed.
As anyone who knows the tiniest thing about me knows, I’m a massive fan of the Alice stories (ie Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass). I love the way Lewis Carroll creates a unique and wildly fanciful world, then uses the various characters to play all sorts of tricks and games with logic and language. The books are essentially plotless, as Alice wonders from one encounter to the next. That’s their charm. And each character is beautifully rendered, both as a character in their own right, but also as a way to express a different idea or puzzle.
But the Tim Burton movie was nothing like this at all. It was as if the wonderful characters had been commandeered and placed in a completely different story. A quest, or an adventure story, that owed more to The Lion, the With and the Wardrobe (to be honest, I thought that the plot was a blatant rip-off), rather than anything by Lewis Carroll. To me, it stank of robbery. These characters did not belong there. They did not suit that kind of narrative. And the various character features (apparent from a few token lines of dialogue) were barely anywhere to be seen as the characters were put into the service of the plot.
Tim Burton, to me, is a serial offender in this regard. Honestly, fancy giving Willy Wonka a backstory. He’s a classic trickster character – he’s not quite of this earth and that’s the whole point of him.
Which gets me back to the main point of this post. We writers put a lot of time and thought and love and care to create our characters and make them just right. I know, in any adaptation, there are changes that need to be made – you don’t just directly translate a book onto the screen. But you don’t misuse characters either. You don’t divert them from their original source, and their original characteristics in order to stuff them into a different kind of story. In short, you respect the original text.
And if you want to tell a different story, tell a different story. Use your imagination – create a whole new world and a whole new batch of characters. Using other people’s characters smacks of laziness. And it also feels a bit like exploitation – taking advantage of the ubiquitousness of some characters in popular culture in order to make it easier to market.
There. I’ve said my peace now and I feel much better. I’m sure there are lots of people who loved the Tim Burton film and utterly disagree with me. That’s fine. I don’t mind.
Have a great (and original and imaginative) week.