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Learning To Appreciate The Passage Of Time ~ An Exclusive Interview With Director James Bobin

It was a day of many emotions and I had just cried so much the night before at the screening of Alice Through The Looking Glass. Though I knew very little about him, I was excited to meet Director James Bobin, because he had directed The Muppets (2011) and The Muppets Most Wanted (2014), which are two films we own and watch over and over in my family.

We can probably recite them word for word – and they’ve become like our ‘showcase films,’ because my daughters will ask friends and family when they come over if they’d seen them, and if the answer is ‘No,’ they jump and scream in excitement, because, ‘they have to see it!’

Director James Bobin - Alice Through The Looking Glass - Interview - Learning To Appreciate The Passage Of Time

And now he had directed Alice Through The Looking Glass, the sequel to Disney’s 2010 Alice In Wonderland, a new favorite of mine (as of just a few hours before the meeting).

He walked in and he was so smiley, so friendly, so humble, and so talkative. I can admit that he was a perfect first interview during my first Disney press event.

But now that I sit down and read his words, and organize my thoughts of what I want you to take away from my interview with James Bobin, tears started rolling down my face.

Having interviewed Mia Wasikowska and Suzanne Todd, and having watched the movie three times now (besides that screening, I attended the Hollywood Premiere and then I went to the movie theater with my family when Alice Through The Looking Glass opened everywhere on May 27), I am overwhelmed by the heart, passion, and appreciation they each had for the movie.

I had a feeling James Bobin would be really funny, and he is, and I was curious about how you go from directing The Muppets to an action-adventure like Alice Through The Looking Glass that includes a world of wonder, time travel, and so many positive lessons to guide your life and your relationships.

James Bobin confessed he was a bit tired, from working on Alice Through The Looking Glass for nearly three years (since 2013 to just weeks ago),to doing press in England, Madrid, New York, LA, and next up, Japan. But no one could tell until he brought it up, because he was so upbeat and engaging.

His involvement in directing Alice Through The Looking Glass started in The Muppets Most Wanted set, when Disney executive Kristin Burr mentioned the possibility of making a new Alice film:

When I found out we were doing it, I was really excited. I grew up in England, and Alice is part of your life. She’s someone who you know really well. She’s part of your makeup. My parents read it to me. I read it as a kid. My grandparents read it to me. Everyone has it. And I did the same with my children. In my kid’s playroom, we have a poster from the British Library, which is the frontispiece of the original manuscript… It’s beautiful. It’s what he wrote for Alice Liddell … the first page. And it has [Lewis Carroll’s] little drawings, which are very different to the way you think she’s gonna look… It’s really pretty. We love Alice in our family.”

Alice Going Through The Looking Glass

I was impressed by how much of a fan of Alice In Wonderland and Lewis Carroll he was. That night, after the Alice Through The Looking Glass premiere, I was so tired, but I still had to look up who Alice Liddell was, because though I love reading the books and I loved the first Disney Alice film, I clearly hadn’t gone as deep as he had.

And, of course, the movie has a lot of humor in it, so it definitely has a James Bobin stamp.

“When I read Lewis Carroll as a kid he used to make me laugh. He has a very witty way of writing, and he’s very clever with language. I think comedy is often about the specificity of language. All my so far I’ve been making jokes and comedy. It felt a very natural thing to do is try and use that in this world… bring some of that British comedy back, a bit.”

In addition, in Alice Through The Looking Glass, you will notice that James Bobin used Tim Burton’s idea of Wonderland as a start, while adding a brighter design, and a more victorian feel, based on books Bobin read as a child that were illustrated by John Tenniel, portraying the world where Alice lived.

There also many little details in Alice Through The Looking Glass that pay tribute to Lewis Carroll, for example, the chess match in progress is the same game layout you find at the beginning of the original Through The Looking Glass book, prior to the title page is a layout of the chess game in progress. The mantlepiece clock in the room is the same mantlepiece clock that Tenniel drew in 1871.

Tim Burton’s movie is so beautiful and so beautifully constructed. That was a really good foundation to start from… When I was talking with Dan Hennah, our production designer, about this world, I used to tell him to look at Tenniel’s drawings. And all the characters in the foreground and what’s behind them. That is the world I want to create for [Alice Through The Looking Glass.] But then also pursuing this idea of making it feel like the world of the Victorian imagination.

The world of Alice Through The Looking Glass

I believe you’ll really enjoy the changes, especially knowing that his focus was on family relationships and making sure Alice Through The Looking Glass is interesting and attractive to kids.

“I wanted to take elements of the book like the backwards room and obviously the looking glass and the characters and the spirit of Lewis Carroll, the idea of something which is fairly complex but not so complex that my eight year old daughter wouldn’t understand it.”

The movie is different than the book. And that’s a good thing, because Alice Through The Looking Glass is entertaining for the whole family.

“It’s a bit different and it needed to be different. I think sequels need to be different. It’s nice to pay tribute and make sure you respect the origins of the story and the characters. But people want to see something which is a progression or something new or if it has a different sight, feel or tone.”

I agree. It was nice to see more depth to the characters we all love, to see them at different stages of their lives, and to imagine other sides to a story we already know. There are many twists and turns in the movie. And new characters, like Time himself.

“Time is Lewis Carroll’s idea. It’s not my idea. I only borrowed it from him. Lewis Carroll talks about time as a person in the book Alice in Wonderland. When the Hatter first meets Alice at the tea party, he’s stuck and he says to her: ‘I’ve been stuck here since last month where Time and I quarreled.’ In Wonderland Lewis Carroll thinks time is not just an idea but a man, a person. And we thought it would be a useful character to have in this film.”

Linda Woolverton [known for The Lion King, Beauty And The Beast, Maleficent, Alice In Wonderland] already had time travel as a central idea for the script for Alice Through The Looking Glass. Bobin pushed the script “in certain directions of  trying to bring out the themes of the movie.”

“And often the way themes work the best is if you have lines that are gonna work and stick in your brain a bit… It’s really trying to say things in a way that’s memorable without people getting hit over the head with it too much.”

And that he did. You will see that so many profound wisdom quotes will jump out at you and you will be pondering on them for a long time to come. If you’re anything like me, they will play in your head over and over in the voice of Sacha Barron Cohen. His original accent stands out in the British sounding world of Underland and it is a mix of Swiss (a ‘clockmaker’ reference) and German (a ‘precision reference).

Alice Through The Looking Glass -Time

Beyond the humor, the wonder, the iconic roles, and the CGI magic, Alice Through The Looking Glass is as inspiring, empowering, and emotional as the book, told in a way that is relatable to audiences today. And, as a mom of two daughters who are entering teen-hood, the way James Bobin put that into words stroke a deep chord in my heart:

“For me, the book Through The Looking Glass is really a book about Alice growing up… Alice becomes a queen. It’s really a metaphor for Alice Liddell who by that time had grown into a woman. For Lewis Carroll it was the idea of the passage of time. And it made him kind of sad. The book is sad. The book ends with a really beautiful poem, which is a poem about the time he wrote the book for her when she was a little girl. It’s him remembering the golden afternoon in the water. It was really beautiful. And if you look at it, it’s an acrostic poem, which means that the first letter of each line adds up to the name Alice Pleasance Liddell down the side. It’s a very clear dedication to the girl, which is lovely. It’s got a very melancholy feel. In my personal life I feel, too, the passage of time can sometimes be a sad thing. And the way I overcome that is if you appreciate the time that you’re in at the time and the people you’re with then you can’t have regrets because you did your best to appreciate it at the time. And that for me is a brilliant message for your life.”

It’s an amazing message. And I am a mess right now. Sobs and all. Because my little girls are growing up, because last time I was with my dad, he played me a song that he dedicated to me when I was growing up (“De niña a mujer,” or from little girl to woman), and because I chatted with James Bobin at the after party for the Alice Through The Looking Glass premiere and he talks about his daughter like my dad talks about me. Alice Through The Looking Glass heals our sometimes wounded relationship with time.



A photo posted by Elayna Fernandez (@thepositivemom) on

The poem James Bobin was referring to is so beautiful I had to find it and share it with you:

A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July–

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear–

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die.
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream–
Lingering in the golden gleam–
Life, what is it but a dream?

Lewis Carroll wrote an acrostic poem to Alice Liddell - Alice Through The Looking Glass

Life is a dream… every second, every minute, every hour, every day… and director James Bobin was intentional in conveying this empowering truth. My weeping has been replaced with a calm feeling of peace and joy.

There is so much I could tell you about my interview with Director James Bobin, and so much you could learn from him, but my invitation is: go see the movie and learn through his work… you will definitely be inspired. It is now in theaters everywhere.

For more clips, pictures, and news, visit the official ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS site, like on Facebook, follow on Instagram and follow Walt Disney Studios on Twitter.

And make sure you “Travel Through The Looking Glass” and transform yourself into your favorite ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS character!

You can also keep the kids entertained with these fun ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS activity sheets:

Alice Through The Looking Glass Coloring Sheets
Alice Through The Looking Glass Bookmarks
Alice Through The Looking Glass Spot The Differences Activity
Alice Through The Looking Glass Maze
Alice Through The Looking Glass Jigsaw Map Of Underland

What did you like most about my interview with James Bobin? Tell me in the comment section below!

Elayna is a single mom of 4, an award-winning Storyteller, Story Strategist, and Student of Pain. She’s a bestselling author, internationally acclaimed keynote speaker, and 4x TEDx speaker. Founder of the Positive MOM® and creator of the S.T.O.R.Y. System: a blueprint to craft and share powerful stories that will transform your results, so you can have the wealth, opportunities, and freedom you deserve. Connect with Elayna Fernández at thepositivemom.com/keynote-speaker and follow @thepositivemom. To receive a gift from Elayna, click HERE.

Be Positive and You Will Be Powerful ~ Elayna FernandBe Positive and You Will Be Powerful ~ Elayna Fernandez ~ The Positive MOMez ~ The Positive MOM
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Red carpet photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Disney

Group picture by Jana Seitzer/MerlotMommy.com

Erin Kennedy

Tuesday 7th of June 2016

This looks like a such a fab movie! I love the the colors! I would love to have chatted with he director.

Karlaroundtheworld | Karla

Monday 6th of June 2016

Wow, I feel that she's really a product of wonderful imaginations, it's always nice to know more about her. And that poem is just lovely and dreamy!

Ann Bacciaglia

Sunday 5th of June 2016

This is a great interview. I saw Alice Through The Looking Glass this week. It was fantastic.


Sunday 5th of June 2016

It looks like such a good movie!! I haven't seen it yet but I cannot wait to!

Marielle Altenor

Sunday 5th of June 2016

That's so amazing that you were able to meet the director and you got to interview him. I hope I can go see this movie while it is still in theater.