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The wonder of childhood

The quest for lost childhood is a theme as old as the blue-remembered hills. There are moments, though, when it converges with the path of contemporary culture, and this appears to be one of them. From the growth of storytelling to the popularity of TV shows such as Glee, regression is the order of the day.

A happy coincidence, then, that next month sees the release of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. Featuring Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and Burton's wife, Helena Bonham Carter, as the Red Queen, this 3D spectacular is the latest in a long line of Lewis Carroll adaptations.

Wonderland's appeal is obvious, particularly to Burton, a director whose back catalogue betrays an almost pathological obsession with coming-of-age, from his remake of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to his own fairytale Edward Scissorhands.

But Burton is not the only one. Two directors better known for their adult surrealism have also dipped their toe into the training pool of late: Wes Anderson, with his stop-motion version of another Dahl classic, Fantastic Mr Fox; and Spike Jonze, who, together with the author Dave Eggers, transferred Maurice Sendak's beloved picture book Where the Wild Things Are to the big screen. Both have PG certificates, but it was adults filling up the cinema when I went to watch them.

If audiences are feeling 'forever young', so too is the industry. The latest issue of Vanity Fair has Burton's Alice, the Australian newcomer Mia Wasikowska, among the nine "fresh faces" featured on the magazine's Hollywood fold-out.

The March issue is always a big seller, thanks to this annual cover shot of Tinseltown's next big things, photographed by Annie Leibovitz in the latest haute couture.

But what's this? In place of ballgowns, bobby socks. Instead of Jimmy Choos, bowling shoes. Despite boasting an average age of 24, this year's ingenues are dressed less for the Oscars, more for their first day at prep school. Compared to the 2008 cover on which Anne Hathaway and Amy Adams were swathed in elegant folds of taffeta, satin and silk, this latest cohort is younger -- Wasikowska is 20 years old and Twilight's Kristen Stewart is just 19.

Visionary

But don't tell me their fellow cover star, Evan Rachel Wood, dresses this way for her boyfriend, Marilyn Manson. In their freshly pressed cotton, their hair cropped a la Carey Mulligan or, in Anna Kendrick's case, neatly pulled back with (what else?) an Alice band, these 'girls' are a Humbert Humbert fantasy.

Style-watchers are calling it the Alice effect, though it's hard to work out whether film is influencing fashion or the reverse. Stevie Brown, a fashion writer at Asos magazine, which pin-points Wonderland as a leading trend for spring, thinks both.

That Alice is a perennial source of inspiration is due in part to the brilliance of John Tenniel's original illustrations.

Leibovitz's most visionary spread to date (for US Vogue) featured the model Natalia Vodianova opposite fashion designers recast as characters from Carroll's book. Tom Ford's White Rabbit wore Gucci; the milliner Stephen Jones wore one of his own creations as the Mad Hatter; Tweedledum and Tweedledee were played by the Dutch duo Viktor & Rolf, who are riffing on Alice for their spring/ summer 2010 collection.

At their essence, drawing and dress-up are child's play -- different ways of telling the same story. Of his ongoing collaboration with Depp, Burton has said: "We have a big dress-up clothes trunk. We take it with us wherever we go."

Alice in Wonderland opens on March 5. In this Thursday's HQ, Paul Byrne, our man in LA, meets Johnny Depp


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