#233 Alice

(1988, Jan Svankmajer)
Něco z Alenky

“Now you will see a film made for children…perhaps”

Alice In Wonderland is a truly iconic children’s story, and I personally have a fondness for it, as I’m sure many others do. But despite its fame as a children’s story, it can easily be read as a horrific nightmare drug trip without changing a single word in it. And this dichotomy of Lewis Carroll’s classic certainly wasn’t lost on Jan Svankmajer when he made Alice.

You should already know the story of Alice In Wonderland, but for those who don’t, welcome to Earth, intergalactic visitors. It’s about a girl named Alice who goes to a place called Wonderland, oddly enough.

She gets there when a White Rabbit in a jacket rushing past her complaining about being late while examining a pocket watch. In traditional versions, Alice follows the rabbit down a rabbit hole and lands in Wonderland, where she experiences a series of adventures, but in Svankmajer’s version, Alice (Kristýna Kohoutová) follows the rabbit into a stationery drawer. And that’s not the only way it differs.

Where other versions of Alice placed a young girl in a dazzlingly colourful environment with gumdrop trees and sprawling gardens, Svankmajer’s Alice places her in a dilapidated mansion filled with creaky antiques that come to life and do weird things. Also, where other adaptations take the “wonder” part of the title as their entire design document and make everything all charming and happy, Svankmajer seemingly decided to use Carroll’s possible opium trip as the basis for his version.

Because that’s what Alice is. It’s a freaky drug trip of a movie that manages to prove how easily Alice In Wonderland can be adapted as horror. The movie even plays with this in its opening scenes, where Alice (in narration) states that “this is a story made for children…perhaps.” Kohoutová is the only real person in the movie, with other characters being played by stop motion puppets, with Alice’s voice narrating the story being the only dialogue.

And oh, those puppets. My god. These things will haunt your dreams. The White Rabbit is an actual taxidermy bunny that introduces itself by wrenching itself off its wood panel and tearing out the nails that held it there. The Caterpillar is a stuffed sock with false teeth and glass eyes added just in case you felt like sleeping any time soon. The Mad Hatter is a marionette puppet that gets stuck in a constant loop and the March Hare is a clockwork Frankenstein’s monster whose eye likes to fall out on a regular basis.

And all of this is animated with the creakiest, most amateurish stop motion animation ever seen. This is not the work of Henry Selick or Nick Park; this is jerky, frame-skipping stop motion in the deepest trough of the uncanny valley. What’s worse, they felt the need to add in creaking noises every time anything moves, just to highlight the somewhat broken, run down and unreal motions. Mixed in with all of this is a theme of Very Sharp Things Everywhere that makes this Wonderland feel a lot more dangerous.

But do you know what? IT WORKS. Just as often as it messes with your head (and your understanding of the original story), it also manages to be somewhat charming and likeable. There are moments when the creaky animation becomes endearing instead of terrifying, and even when you’re feeling uneasy about, well, everything, it all still feels very faithful to Carroll’s work.

The movie isn’t exactly perfect though. The growing and shrinking section of the story seems to drag a little after a while, and sometimes the disjointed nature of everything can grate a little. I also felt a little sad that everything was set in the dilapidated house and craved some of the colour of the Disney animation after a while. But aside from these things, I actually enjoyed the movie overall.

Alice was certainly an interesting watch, and if you’re a fan of Carroll’s story like I am, you’d do well to give this a watch, even if it’s just out of curiosity. Utterly terrifying but oddly endearing at the same time, this version of Alice will stick with you for a while after you’ve watched it, for better or worse.

Starring Kristýna Kohoutová
Written by Lewis Carroll (book – “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland”) & Jan Svankmajer
Produced by Peter-Christian Fueter
Cinematography by Svatopluk Malý
Edited by Marie Zemanová

Favourite Scene: Svankmajer took the madness of the tea party to its logical conclusion.
Scene That Bugged Me: The big and small flip-flopping got a bit tiresome after a while.

Watch it if: You like bizarre, creaky adaptations of children’s stories
Avoid it if: You want your Wonderland to be filled with colour


Posted on November 12, 2013, in 1980s, Animation, Czech Republic, Fantasy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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