Tim Burton’s eagerly anticipated – and Disney produced – 3D re-imagining of Lewis Carroll’s beloved “Alice in Wonderland” finally hits theaters this weekend. New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) was wise to capitalize on the excitement that Burton’s latest has been generating among fans of his and the classic tale, by curating a Burton retrospective that opened last fall. The exhibit has been a massive hit for MoMA, attracting fine art aficionados and people who don’t normally frequent art galleries.
The popularity of the retrospective serves to further cement Burton’s as our generation’s most prolific Gothic artist. You only have to look back at Burton’s stylized oeuvre to gleam his macabre yet whimsical sensibilities. His Gotham City was a foreboding city inhabited by colorful misfits and castaways, while the suburbia he conjured up in the fairytale “Edward Scissorhands” was an off-kilter mix of old-school horror and Douglas Sirk melodramas.
Following his last outing “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” – arguably his darkest film to date – teaming up with Disney to direct “Alice in Wonderland” might seem like an surprising move on Burton’s part. But as MoMA’s exhibit makes clear, Burton has had a long history with Disney. Born in Burbank, CA in 1958, he was a visual artist before advancing into film. He attended CalArts, and upon graduation landed a job as an animator for Walt Disney Studios, where he worked for four years. His time spent at Disney is credited in the exhibit for being the birthplace of his signature style that the film going public has long since embraced. During his time there, he directed the short cartoon “Vincent,” the live action short “Frankenweenie” and an decidedly bizarre adaptation of “Hansel and Gretel” (which can only be viewed at MoMA). A section of the exhibit, “Beautifying Burbank,” exclusively covers his two years at CalArts and his time spent at Disney.
It’s no wonder that Disney came calling to Burton to revitalize a classic tale for a new generation. If any children’s story calls for a visually psychedelic trip, “Alice in Wonderland” is it. And as Burton revealed at a press conference at MoMA last summer, the exhibit revved him up for the opus that is “Alice,” and for his upcoming duties as Jury President at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
“Believe me,” Burton said to the exhibit’s curators. “You’ve actually helped me more than you know in terms of getting my act together.”
For those haven’t yet had the chance to view Burton’s overwhelming output of artwork, sketches and short films, the show continues at MoMA through the end of April when the exhibit ends its successful run and travels to other cities.