Tim Burton talks 'Alice' at museum event

MoMa exhibit includes rare drawings, film artifacts

NEW YORK -- "I'm still working on it. I got a lot to do in a short period of time. ... I shouldn't even be here." That's how Tim Burton described the status of "Alice in Wonderland," set to be released in 2010, speaking Tuesday with reporters who had come to preview the Museum of Modern Art's largest-ever retrospective of the works of a filmmaker.

Addressing why he took on the iconic story for his latest film, Burton said, "I've never seen adaptations (of Alice) in film I liked," with one criticism being the portrayal of Alice as a rather passive character.

But otherwise, the filmmaker was upbeat, and had all reason to be. The Burton exhibition -- which brings together never-before-seen drawings and other renderings by the director, including some from his childhood, film artifacts, movie posters and more -- opens at MoMa on Sunday and runs through April. It is accompanied by a film series that will showcase Burton features and shorts, as well as movies that influenced him.

At a news conference, Burton thanked "everybody that raided my closets" to compile materials for the exhibit and said the process has been "incredible" and positive for him, even though he said some parts he doesn't dare to look at, because they are so personal.

By trying to make sense out of his life so far, "you guys actually helped me more than you know" in terms of getting his act together, he told the museum team, also lauding them for finding things he didn't even know could be found himself. "Overall, it was "a very positive experience," Burton said, before quipping: "I'm appreciative that I'm not dead yet."

The exhibit starts with the director's childhood in Burbank when, he said Thursday, he "communicated a lot through drawings." It also covers what MoMa says was a key period for his artistic development spanning two years at the California Institute of the Arts and four as an animator at Disney. Throughout this 1977-84 period, Burton developed such signature styles as his use of body modification and other trademarks, according to the MoMa retrospective.

Ron Magliozzi, assistant curator at the MoMa film department, said the idea for the Burton show came in mid-2005, with research then starting in early 2008.

"Burton is known almost exclusively for his work for the screen," the first info board of the exhibit reads. "This exhibition provides unprecedented access to the entire range of his creative output, including his sketchbooks, concept art, drawings, paintings, photographs and amateur films."

Click photo for an image gallery.

Among the treasures to be found are puppets from "The Nightmare Before Christmas," a little-known TV adaptation of "Hansel and Gretel" commissioned by the Walt Disney Co. and broadcast only once in Oct 1983, the Scarecrow from "Sleepy Hollow," an Edward Scissorhands statue, Batman masks and severed heads from "Mars Attacks!," art and storyboards from "Frankenweenie" and drawings of various creatures and characters.

Burton didn't talk about projects beyond "Alice," but said he has no TV project planned.

NBC Universal's Syfy network is the lead sponsor of the exhibition, with president Dave Howe telling The Hollywood Reporter he felt that Burton fit in well with Syfy's relaunched brand that encourages people to "imagine greater." He said that there is "no artist who does this better" than Burton. "He's a role model for us, and a guru."

Asked if he would do a project with Burton, Howe said the network would "clearly" be interested, even though he joked that he wasn't sure Syfy could afford him.