Tim Burton creates a most perfect dream world in the film adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic, Alice in Wonderland. Through Carroll’s words Burton inspires us to embrace the extraordinary, to go outside our comfort zone and see that being a little weird isn’t so bad after all. Maybe it could even be good, better than normal. When the Mad Hatter, played with such sweetness by Johnny Depp, exposes his fear that he may have lost his mind, Alice repeats her father’s reassuring words when she questioned her sanity after waking from a bizarre dream:
“You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”
The words could refer to director Tim Burton himself who has made a career of championing quirky, harmless misfits navigating their way in a world that is foreign to them, belonging as it does to the “normal” people. Burton’s perspective is unique because it takes away the otherness of such characters, humanizing them and creating empathy for these outsiders. It’s a tremendous lesson for children who will come away from the film with the sense that it’s okay to be different and that people who are a little strange may have great gifts and actually be the good guys with much to offer.
Is it his very madness that allows Johnny Depp’s character to create the amazing repertoire of headpieces for the Red Queen, preventing her from removing his own head? We could say the same about a lot of designers and other artists–it’s their very quirkiness that allows them to tap into the creativity that produces great fashion and other works of art. A thrilling scene for a fashion lover is the one in which Depp shows the Queen a series of his creations, an amazing array of hats actually created by designer Colleen Atwood, the genius behind all the costumes in the film.
Atwood has collaborated with Burton on a number of his films and won two Oscars for her work on other movies. Ms. Atwood, who holds a degree in fashion, brings haute couture flair to the costumes in the film with creations to make a fashion lover drool. Alice’s exquisite outfits take centre stage as we witness her outgrow some and drown in others (as she shrinks to miniature size). The funniest bit is when the Mad Hatter constructs a glorious gown for the tiny Alice out of a length of fabric and not more than two snips of a pair of scissors. It even comes complete with a floral applique!
“My father said he believed in six impossible things before breakfast.”
Believing the unbelievable is another inspiring attribute of Alice in Wonderland, reminding us that anything is possible if we just imagine it. Before tackling the impossible task of slaying the Jabberwocky, Alice reminds herself of her father’s ability to dream and how far that took him. He was considered crazy for his entrepreneurial spirit and wound up a successful businessman, a pattern we see repeated in today’s real-life success stories such as Virgin founder Richard Branson, said to “suffer” from ADHD and Microsoft’s Bill Gates, rumoured to have Asberger’s Syndrome. Come to think of it, most successful people are nonconformists; they are the ones with the ability to dream and imagine what others can’t fathom.
“Who’s to say what is proper?”
Alice’s retort when her mother decries her refusal to don a corset and stockings is another fashion moment reminiscent of Coco Chanel’s rejection of the same underpinnings. Again we see fashion and feminism intermingling, offering a means of rebellion, an outward demonstration of the unrest going on within the adolescent Alice, unsettled and ill at ease with the world. Like Chanel, she rejects social conventions through her choice of clothing and winds up rejecting her suitor–at a time when it was highly unconventional for a woman to choose to be single–to pursue her career aspirations, reassuring her worried mother:
“I’ll find something useful to do with my life.”