More than anything else, the zany details are what really put the “wonder” in “Wonderland.” The much-dissected, much-analyzed spectacle known as Tim Burton's film is almost here. How will Burton's vision of the secondary non-human characters stack up against previous interpretations of Lewis Carroll's wacky wondrous world?
1. The Cheshire Cat
Burton's rendition of the mysterious trickster Cheshire Cat looks kind of like the live-action evil (or, more evil) twin of Vendetta's giant cat in Amy Winfrey's “Making Fiends.” It's the teeth, I think. Sir John Tenniel's version of the cat is tame by comparison. The cats seemed to get stranger over time, it seems. In this case, Disney's bubblegum psychedelic Cheshire Cat is particularly wonderful with disappearing purple stripes and pink stripes that linger like the ribs of a skeleton. Arthur Rackham, you'll notice, is not represented in this side-by-side cat comparison. This is because Rackham never drew a version of the Cheshire Cat. Sadly, we'll never know how he might have envisioned it.
2. The White Rabbit
Burton's rabbit owes a lot to Rackham's. There is something grotesque in the Rackham rabbit, something vulgar and vaguely perverted about the nose, which kind of looks like the one sported by Joe Camel in Camel cigarettes. That is not a rabbit you want to cuddle. And check out those feet! Huge! Tenniel's rabbit is stereotypically cute. Disney's rabbit is cute, with a hint of sinister. It is a rabbit that is going to jack up your fundamental sense of reality.
3. The Caterpillar
Burton clearly had a peep through a microscope at some point during the design of his version of the smoking Caterpillar. Does his blue critter look like one of those microscopic bed mites you see in Discovery programs, or what? The ones they tell you are invisibly crawling all over your skin at this very moment? Rackham's Caterpillar, on the other hand, looks more like a tequila worm. A tequila worm with the face of a bored old bookstore counter guy. And is he wearing a hat? That's weird. Tenniel's Caterpillar has his back turned to us. Points for turning the caterpillar's skin into a robe.
4. The Roses with Faces
Disney's flowers with faces are by far the best. They are adorable! They have an air of snarky naughtiness about them, just as you'd expect of flowers come to life. Burton's have the faces of old men. While superior in terms of “photo-realism,” they seem like they'd lecture you about never watering them, never pruning them, never giving them enough fertilizer or some such. But hey, they're roses. They're entitled. Arthur Rackham appears to have called it a day with the flowers and not even bothered to anthropomorphize them. We could take issue with that, but Rackham was a genius and presumably knew what he was doing.
5. The Tea Party
The tea party isn't properly a “creature,” but it's worth a mention. Alice gets the seat of honor in Rackham's and Disney's party. But in Burton's tea party, Johnny Depp does. Typical. Burton also appears to be working a bo-ho vintage chic kind of ambiance with the cobbled together tables, mismatched chairs and tablecloths. Of all these parties, Disney's and Burton's look like the most fun. (Note the smoke cloud floating above the tea table in the Disney version–hope they bought a LOT of cookies.) Rackham's tea party looks about as fun as a wake.
6. Alice, Alice & Alice
I included this comparison of Alice simply because the story of Alice Liddell and Lewis Carroll is so darkly interesting. Fresh-faced Mia Wasikowska plays a 19-year old Alice in Tim Burton's movie. While Wasikowska has the appropriate innocence and girlishness, the real-life Alice who inspired the original story was much younger. Liddell is the “Alice” for whom Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland (though it wasn't originally called that). She was the daughter of a friend. She was 10 years old when Carroll knew her. There has been plenty of speculation about the nature of their relationship. Was Carroll a pedophile? Was he sexually attracted to her? He took that picture of her on the far right dressed up as a beggar-child. It seems he took lots of pictures of young girls.