Every so often, Hollywood creates a film that becomes a blockbuster box office bonanza and such is the case of Walt Disney Pictures, Alice in Wonderland.
If you've been following my column on Examiner.com. (time for a little shameless self-promotion) you've been receiving updates and viewing a number of behind-the-scenes videos about the making of the film.
The last updated video that I posted in my "Popcorn Report," covering weekly movie releases, coincided with the film's nationwide opening on Friday, March 5, 2010. (If you happened to have missed it, just follow this link and press on the movie's title.)
In the weeks leading up to Alice's release, as I received more material about the film from Disney's marketing department, I began to realize just how big this film was going to be, and as of this afternoon, the box office figures are staggering - $116.3 million from 4,000 screens, and the weekend isn't even over.
This opening dollar figure puts Alice in a very rarefied category, which tops launch figures for every non- sequel film ever made, and surprisingly also beat out the opening figures for the last Harry Potter film, Half-Blood Prince.
Alice's success can probably best be attributed to the right combination of factors: Tim Burton's directing; Johnny Depp's acting as well as his fan base; outstanding computer generated graphics; 3-D imagery and the re-telling of one of the most beloved, all-time classic novels.
So, now that you will probably go out and see the film, and it is certain to be the topic of many conversations in the weeks to come, I'd like to share some entertaining FUN FACTS (bits of Alice trivia) courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures that are designed to go well while standing around the water cooler or at your next cocktail party.
And, once you finish the FACTS, take a look at the video below. It's the original Alice in Wonderland silent film made 107 years ago (just 37 years after Lewis Carroll penned his classic, and a mere eight years after the birth of the cinema.)
This antique Alice was directed by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Snow, and was in fact based on the original book illustrations by Sir John Tenniel.
There were no professional actors used in the 1903 film. The role of "Alice" was played by a studio secretary, Hepworth doubled as the "Frog Footman," while his wife took on the role of the "Red Queen" (deja vu Tim Burton and his wife Helena Bonham Carter) and the Hepworth's family pet became the Cheshire cat.
Resurrected and restored by the British Film Institute, the original Alice in Wonderland may not have been a box office wonder in its day, but it was considered quite magical at the time, just as today's Alice seems to our generation. I wonder what historians a century from now will say about Disney's blockbuster?
THE BIG PICTURE
* DIVINE DIGS – Director Tim Burton’s London office was once owned by Arthur Rackham, a famous English book illustrator who created the iconic color plates for the 1907 edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
* THE QUESTION IS WHO ARE YOU? – Lewis Carroll is actually a pen name for Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a lecturer in mathematics at Christchurch University in Oxford, England.
* WONDERLAND, NO UNDERLAND — Underland is the same fantastical land that Alice visited as a child, but—according to screenwriter Linda Woolverton—she misheard the word “Underland” and thought they said “Wonderland.” Woolverton says Underland is a part of the Earth, lying somewhere far beneath our world. It’s come upon hard times since the malevolent Red Queen took over the throne, but is a truly wonderful land, which might explain why the girl who mistook it for Wonderland has been called upon to help return it to its glory.
* ALMOST ALICE — “ALICE IN WONDERLAND” sparked two music CDs, including the motion-picture soundtrack, featuring an extraordinary score by composer Danny Elfman, and “Almost Alice,” a 16-song companion compilation featuring the film’s end credit track “Alice,” written and performed by Avril Lavigne, plus songs from artists who were inspired by the film, including All American Rejects, 3OH!3, The Cure’s Robert Smith, Franz Ferdinand and Shinedown. The album’s title, “Almost Alice,” comes from a line in the film. All of Underland has been awaiting Alice’s return since she first visited as a child, but when she does come back, nobody—including Alice—believes she’s the right Alice, the confident and feisty Alice they once knew. Eventually, the wise caterpillar tells her she’s Almost Alice.
* DEPP’S DESIGNS — Actor Johnny Depp goes through ample preparation for each of his roles and preparing to play the Mad Hatter was no different. Long before production began, the actor began doing watercolor paintings of what the Mad Hatter might look like, discovering later that his vision was quite similar to director Tim Burton’s.
* MAD HATTER MOOD RING — The Mad Hatter suffers from mercury poisoning, a common and unfortunate condition of many hatters of the time who used the chemical regularly for their craft. Depp and Burton elevated this Hatter’s madness by literally showcasing the character’s many mad mood swings in his makeup and wardrobe, creating a virtual human mood ring.
* CHANGES — Mia Wasikowska who plays Alice is five feet four inches in real life but Alice changes size throughout the course of her adventures in Wonderland, ranging from six inches to two feet to eight-and-a-half feet, to a maximum of 20 feet tall. The production worked hard to use practical methods rather than special effects and often it was a case of putting Alice on an apple box to make her taller than everyone else.
* DRINK ME — The potion Alice drinks to shrink is called Pishsolver. The cake she eats to grow is called Upelkuchen.
* SWEET AND SOUR — Actress Anne Hathaway, who portrays the White Queen in “ALICE IN WONDERLAND,” decided that her representation of the character wouldn’t be completely vanilla. The White Queen comes from the same gene pool as the evil Red Queen, after all, so Hathaway envisioned a “punk rock vegan pacifist” and was inspired by Blondie, Greta Garbo, Dan Flavin and Norma Desmond.
* FUTTER-WHAT? — Futterwacken is the term used to describe the Underlanders’ dance of unbridled joy. Composer Danny Elfman was stumped when it came to creating the music for the dance. He wrote four different pieces for the director, each fun, unique and, as Elfman says, “pushing the bounds of what could be acceptable.”
* TWO TWEEDLES — Actor Matt Lucas was tapped to play both Tweedles, rotund twin brothers who constantly disagree with each other and whose confusing chatter makes little sense to anyone but themselves. Lucas, however, was unable to play Tweedledee and Tweedledum at the same time (for some reason). Actor Ethan Cohen was called on to portray Dum to Lucas’ Dee (or vice versa) during filming, but will never actually appear on screen.
* BANDERSNATCH? — This disgusting, drooling, foul-smelling creature has a big filthy body and the squashed, teeth-baring face of a rabid bulldog. The creature leaves Alice with a rather painful reminder of the Red Queen’s horrible reign.
BEHIND THE SCENES
* MEASURING UP — Costume designer Colleen Atwood had her work cut out for her when it came to creating the costumes for Mia Wasikowska’s ever-changing Alice. The character wears a variety of different garments, including one purportedly made from the Red Queen’s curtains and even armor. Atwood had to find fabric in different scales, and construct costumes for Mia that would help illustrate her size changes.
* ON WITH HIS HEAD — Crispin Glover portrays Stayne, the Knave of Hearts, in the film, but only his head appears on screen. The body of the character, who’s seven-and-a-half feet tall, is computer generated. On set, Glover wore a green suit and a pair of stilts to make him taller. His face was fully made up for the role (complete with an eye patch and scar). For the final film, Stayne’s entire costume, body and even his cape are CGI. Only his face is real.
* ON WITH HER FACE — Helena Bonham Carter endured three hours of makeup each morning to transform into the fiery Red Queen. With the help of makeup pro Vallie O’Reilly, the actress was decked out in white powder, lots of blue eye shadow, painted eyebrows and perfect, heart-shaped bow-mouth lips. The special effects team enlarged Bonham Carter’s head in post production, creating the final look for the big-headed Queen.
* SOLE SURPRISE — Costume designer Colleen Atwood added a red heart to the soles of the Red Queen’s shoes, visible when the pampered royal places her feet on a live pig-turned-footrest.
* STILT TROUBLE — After Crispin Glover, who spent much of his time on stilts during production, twisted his ankle filming one particular scene, he was often followed on set by stuntmen all dressed in green who were there solely to catch him in case he fell again.
* CARROT CAPPERS —Tim Burton wanted the animal characters in Wonderland to appear real rather than cartoony. So before creating the White Rabbit, animators spent a day at a rabbit shelter for abandoned rabbits, observing the animals and shooting photo reference footage to ensue they captured the nuances of rabbits chewing and wriggling their noses.
* 2D to 3D — Director Tim Burton decided to shoot the film in 2D and convert it later to 3D. The director was so impressed with the results of the conversion of his film “The Nightmare Before Christmas” to 3D, he opted to go a similar route for “Alice.”
* SUPER SFX SUPERVISOR — Tim Burton turned to legendary special effects guru Ken Ralston and Sony Imageworks to create the wondrous world of Wonderland and its inhabitants. Ralston (whose credits include the original “Star Wars,” as well as “Forrest Gump” and “The Polar Express”) and his team completed more than 2,500 visual effects shots in total. While the team used a combination of live action, animation and a host of other effects techniques, motion capture technology was not tapped for the film.
* IN THE GREEN — To represent the digital characters on set, the production used either cardboard cut outs, full-size models or else resorted to men in green with eyes stuck to various parts of the anatomy to help the actors with their eyelines and to give them something real to react to.
* HAIR-RAISING — When the animators were looking at reference photography of real caterpillars, they noticed they had hair on them. So Absolem the Caterpillar was treated to his very own CG fuzz.
* THE REAL STUFF — Very few real sets were built for Wonderland. In fact, only three versions of the Round Hall (where Alice ends up after falling down the rabbit hole) and the Red Queen’s dungeon were practical sets. The rest were created digitally.
* EYES HAVE IT — The Mad Hatter’s eyes were slightly enlarged making them between 10 and 15 percent bigger than Johnny Depp’s own.
* HIT THE NET — When the animators began to design the Dodo, their first port of call for reference was Google Image Search, followed by London’s Natural History Museum.
* BIG HEAD — A special 4K hi-def camera called a Dulsa with 4000 lines of resolution was used to shoot Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen to enable her head to be blown up to twice its size in post-production without losing any image quality.
Music for the video below: 'Jill in the Box', composed and performed by Wendy Hiscocks.