Directed by: Jan Svankmajer / 1988
Lewis Carroll’s book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” has been retold and parodied so much that it will be part of the pop-culture wood grain for generations to come. In fact, paint-by-number-macabre-maestro-moviemaker Tim Burton is adding to the batch, as he is set to give movie lovers his idea of Alice’s shoot down the rabbit chute in a year or so. This is movie move that I was excited to hear, yet groaned a bit as it seemed too obvious. Are there no new and original ideas anymore? Let’s just hope he can reproduce his version even half as well as “Alice”.
Inspired by Carroll’s tale, the movie “Alice” is assuredly secure in the original, visionary thumb prints of surrealist Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer. I must confess, I’ve only now seen two of his works and since I was old enough to watch television I’ve been a big fan of stop-animation technique, though, I’m not thoroughly versed on the history of it. However, I don’t think it’s too ignorant for me to say that “Alice” is one of the finest and freshest examples of stop-animation mixed with live action. It’s a full-fledged masterpiece. The first Svankmajer film I saw was, “Little Otik”, a Czech folklore about a family who has a mad and crazed tree root baby (and I must say, that family had to be mad and crazed too!). Certainly visually compelling, wickedly entertaining and well-manicured, “Little Otik” is great cinema, but quite exhausting as you almost can’t wait for the end credits to wake you up from all of the movie’s dark, disturbing and nightmarish ways. Regardless, I love it and highly recommend it for fans of stop-motion animation and the bizarre. But, it’s probably not for kids!
On the other slice, I find “Alice” containing some of the similar trademark elements of Svankmajer, but to be more of a joyful dream of creative curiosity that you don’t wish to wake from. It’s also a piece of film that could easily entertain young and old alike. It might have some expressing how “weird” it is, but I’m positive they won’t be able to extinguish their own curiosities from this “cinemadhesive”. This is a charming, 86 minute claustrophobic chicken coop trip down the dresser drawer, filled to the brim with creativity and wonder from the fearless, childlike perspective of Alice. Each step of the way is drenched with strange, playful and curious stop-animated creatures mingling in costumes, throwing things and eating sawdust and buttered watches. It’s not too far off the taxidermy tag team map of Dr. Frankenstein and artist Walter Potter. Where “Little Otik” had me howling with awkward, devilish delight, “Alice” had me in a giant childlike grin and giggle of creative discovery.
It was just the other day that my friend Philip James Cheaney told me of a dream where he and I were at Jan Svankmajer’s house and how strange and wonderful it was. I would imagine it was like a dream within a dream. After watching “Alice”, I have the full vision of what it must have been like in Philip’s dream and what it must be like inside of Jan Svankmajer’s head. It was also just the other day that Chad Thomas Johnston and I were excitedly talking about how we must find more and more crazy, mad, original, fresh, visionary, creative and inspiring five star films. I must say, I have found one of these in “Alice”. This is one of those films that makes me love films even more. In fact, it charges me up so much that I wish to make my own. Or, perhaps I already have, as I used to keep my dead animals under the bed…