Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2005)

1. Analysis of the Book

Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is a fragmented autobiography of the titular character and the people around him. The novel is written in multiple volumes and starts off with Tristram recounting the tale of his birth but the narrative soon veers off into several tangents recalling events that occurred before and after his birth. The narrator becomes so caught up recounting random events he never quite gets around to telling readers about his birth. The stories are chronologically erratic and the language tricky, which confounds readers as they try to keep up with where the narrator drops stories or picks them back up.

2. Analysis of the Film

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story is very much a critique of the vapidness of modern Hollywood cinema. Winterbottom makes it a point to highlight how cinema has become less about intricate art and more about shallow spectacle. The filmmakers and actors creating this film within the film care mostly about the inclusion of a big battle scene or another typical love story as the central story instead of really getting into the intention behind the original Tristram Shandy novel. With Steve Coogan’s sub-plots, the film explores the issue of male egos and male obliviousness to a woman’s burden with raising and maintaining a family. The “mockumentary” style of this movie and comedic performances sometimes blurs what Winterbottom is ultimately trying to say regarding these themes.

3. Analysis of the Adaptation

Michael Winterbottom’s adaptation was cleverly done because it mimicked very well the jumpy narrative, confusion, and insecurity that shines through in Sterne’s novel. Even if some event or story from the novel was excluded from being shown in the film, it received exposition some other way. Cast and production members discuss several scenes that got cut out of the movie’s original script, Jennie tells Coogan about the Tristopedia, and the hot chestnut scene is shown as a flashback from when Coogan was preparing to audition for the part of Shandy. Although A Cock and Bull Story does not follow the events of Sterne’s novel, Winterbottom captures the spirit of the novel with other plots in the film.

4. Online Research

  • Steve Coogan, in an interview, answers criticisms of the movie, talks about how he came to be on the film and some difficulties that came along with filming a movie with in a movie.

  • Director Michael Winterbottom and producer Andrew Eaton discuss the difficulty in trying to market Tristram Shandy to financiers of the film and their approach towards adapting the novel.

  • In this review by Melvyn New, he analyzes why American audiences may not have been receptive to this film because of the lack of familiarity with Steven Coogan and Robert Brydon in American media and tabloids. He also argues that Winterbottom’s version of Tristram Shandy is missing a certain degree of self-consciousness that is ever present in Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. Because of this and other elements such as casting, New thinks that Winterbottom may not have grasped some points that Sterne was trying to make in his novel.

(This link was obtained through the UMD research port so I’m not very sure if there will be any problems linking to the actual article. If there are, please let me know and I’ll try to find another way to show it.)

5. Critical Analysis

Two characters in the film, Jennie the intern and Stephen Fry (as an academic talking head) say that life is chaotic, driven by chance, and can’t be captured by art. Doe the film argue against this, or does it confirm it? How about Sterne?

In some aspects, Winterbottom’s Cock and Bull Story goes against the argument that life’s chaotic nature can’t be captured by art. Fry’s character claims that “life is chaotic, amorphic, can’t fit any shape,” and this film captures this description accurately because one doesn’t know whether to characterize it as satirical, comedic, or a serious adaptation of a classic literary work. This movie can fit into any of those categories given different perspectives. Both the film and literary versions are good at accurately imitating life’s winding nature because both start off with a set path (the tale of Tristram’s life) with a final goal (Tristram’s birth) that eventually takes the back burner in the narrative because of random problems or shifts in belief that pop up along the way. Life’s chaos is captured in both Sterne and Winterbottom’s Tristam Shandy due to rambling, non-sequential narratives, multiple sub-plots, and diversions in story telling.


Alice in Wonderland (2010)


Imagination and suspended conventional beliefs seem to dominate Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. Animals have the ability to talk and potions and food can make a person grow bigger or smaller. Carroll explores the difficulty and confusions of growing older through Alice. Carroll uses tricky wordplay and logic puzzles to entertain rather than tell a conventional story. He abandons a traditional plot line for smaller, connected stories about random events that occur while Alice is in Wonderland. This book has a dual appeal to both a younger and older audience. Children reading this book would be captured and fascinated by the fantastical elements of the story like talking animals and puzzles. Teens and young adults would be captured by Carroll’s allusions to growing larger and death.   



Tim Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland shows a beautifully depicted Wonderland through his liberal use of CG to render the environments of the film. This gives Alice’s adventure an other worldly effect and looks and feels real enough to immerse viewers into a completely foreign environment. Costume and set design also play a huge role in showing the expansiveness of Underland. Each part of Underland has its own look and vibe (i.e. The red queen’s castle and its people are covered in shades of red and pink and adorned with hearts), which helps convey a sense of diversity in this world. Burton’s film emphasizes the importance of believing in one’s own abilities to accomplish things and to challenge contemporary social mores. Although some may argue that Burton’s adaptation may be a little gritty and dark, it still has enough light hearted elements such as comedy to make it appealing to several audiences. 



Burton’s film is not a strict adaptation of the original written work as they both different themes and styles. Carroll’s world presents a more pure innocent world, where puzzles and games are abundant and no real problems are presented for Alice. There is no sense of urgency in Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland like there is in Burton’s, it’s fun, light hearted and doesn’t undertake anything too dark. Burton’s Alice in Wonderland tries to maintain some elements Carroll’s work but ultimately departs from his nonchalant vision of Wonderland. Burton’s reimagined characters and their back stories have a more visceral and darker origin. There is a sense that something more grave is going on in Underland that makes it a place that is less cartoonish (like in other film versions) and a little disturbing. Burton’s wonderland to me comes across as more realistic because he presents a world with actual problems and evil people, where dangerous things can and will happen.



  • An interview with Tim Burton where he describes several production aspects of the film (animation and casting), his influences for his version of Wonderland, and the intention behind this reboot.

  • This article argues the merits of Burton’s liberal use of green screen and a CG environment along with his choice in actors and how these elements take away or add from the overall story.

  • Interviews with actors about working in mostly green screen environment along with an interview with Burton where he explains why his choice of using 3D fit well with his version of Wonderland.,

  • Costume designer Colleen Atwood goes into detail about her process of choosing outfits for characters and how they add to the story being told and the animation technology used for the film.

  • In this series of interviews, Tim Burton mentions that he chose to shoot in 2D and convert the film into 3D later in post production so he could have more control over the depths and blending of the environment he wanted to create. He decided to use a variety of filming techniques in order to a achieve a proper realization of his creative vision of Wonderland and to make the characters seem more integrated into the CG environment. He also discusses some technical aspects of filming like the type of cameras used and why he chose those specific types of cameras. These interviews reveal how the complete digitization of this movie posed difficulties at all levels of production and gives a bit of insight into Tim Burton’s thought processes while filming.



Carroll gave readers a book that was not supposed to have any substantial plot or final moral, which is something Burton was able to provide through a reboot. A film needs to make a statement on something so any one film version cannot strictly abide to the written Alice in Wonderland for the sake of entertainment. Burton had to transform Carroll’s novel into something with a cohesive plot that had a conflict, building action, and a resolution. This film is a reboot because Burton brings a new dimension to Alice in Wonderland by picking up where Carroll left off in his book and introducing brand new story lines and creatures to add onto Carroll’s initial vision. Burton still uses several characters, lines, and themes from the original written Alice in Wonderland only with his own signature creative flair added to them and the storytelling. Wonderland still exists but as a nostalgic place that Alice now identifies as Underland, it went from being a made up dreamland to an actual place. Instead of being childish and filled with light hearted wordplay, there is a darker depth to Burton’s Underland that goes along with the theme of growing up and dealing with the brutal realities of life. Alice’s insistence that she is in a dream is speaks to a person’s reluctance to give up the carefree non-responsibility of childhood for the “real world.” Burton’s quirky, oddball visual style fits well with the oddness Wonderland is presented to have in Carroll’s book but has been tweaked to appeal to a more modern audience and is not meant to be a true adaptation of Alice in Wonderland