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Tim Burton returns to ‘Wonderland’ - and Disney Studios

By David Germain
Associated Press / February 26, 2010

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LOS ANGELES - Tim Burton, girlfriend Helena Bonham Carter, and pal Johnny Depp are starting to look like wayfarers along the Yellow Brick Road.

Their latest journey into fantasyland takes them through the looking glass with a new rendition of “Alice in Wonderland,’’ featuring Depp as the addle-brained Mad Hatter and Bonham Carter as the bratty Red Queen.

“Alice in Wonderland’’ is the sixth straight movie Burton has directed featuring Bonham Carter and the fourth straight that also costarred Depp, who has collaborated with the director on seven films. Burton has cast Bonham Carter as a witch (“Big Fish’’), a chimpanzee (“Planet of the Apes’’), and a dead chick (“Corpse Bride’’), and presented Depp as a candy-making kook (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’’), a cross-dressing filmmaker (“Ed Wood’’) and a kid with dangerously sharp fingers (“Edward Scissorhands’’). He cast both Bonham Carter and Depp as serial killers who used their victims as meat for pies in “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.’’

“Alice in Wonderland’’ marks Burton’s latest reunion with Walt Disney Studios, where he started his career as an animator 30 years ago.

“It’s the weirdest thing, but it’s true. I didn’t really realize it, but I go, I do, I get kicked out, and I go, and I do, I get kicked out. I think this is the third or fourth or fifth time that’s happened,’’ Burton, 51, said in an interview.

Burton’s comings and goings at Disney sum up his professional life in Hollywood, where weird sensibilities such as his usually are snuffed out before they get a chance to catch fire. After his early stint at Disney, Burton returned there to make “Ed Wood,’’ a box-office dud that has gone on to become a cult favorite. Burton came back to produce the animated tale “The Nightmare Before Christmas,’’ a perennial money maker for Disney through Halloween theatrical reissues.

Burton’s first tour at Disney was as an assistant animator for 1981’s “The Fox and the Hound’’ and a designer for 1985’s fantasy flop “The Black Cauldron.’’

“I was specifically working on drawing cute foxes,’’ Burton said. “Once they saw how bad at that I was, what they did was, they kind of liked just my conceptual drawings, so on ‘Black Cauldron,’ I spent like a year doing concept drawings. That was great, because I just got to explore ideas.’’

Disney didn’t use Burton’s ideas, but while there, he made the animated short “Vincent,’’ featuring the voice of “Edward Scissorhands’’ costar Vincent Price, and the fantasy short “Frankenweenie,’’ about a boy who resurrects his dog after it’s killed by a car.

The land of Mickey Mouse and Snow White did not know what to make of a filmmaker who brings domestic pets back to life. So Burton moved on to Warner Bros. for his 1985 feature debut. “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure’’ became a surprise hit. Burton scored again with “Beetle Juice’’ and “Batman’’ before beginning his long partnership with Depp on “Edward Scissorhands.’’

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