(Neco V Alenky)
Director/Screenplay/Production Design – Jan Svankmajer, Based on the Novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Producer – Peter-Christian Fueter, Photography – Svatoplak Maly, Stop Motion Animation – Bedrich Glaseer, Art Direction – Jiri Blaha & Eva Svankmerova. Production Company – Condor Features/Film Four International/Hessicher Redfunk
Kristyna Kohoutova (Alice), Camilla Power (Voice of Alice)
A young girl follows a stuffed rabbit that breaks out of a glass cage. It leads her on a journey through a desk and into a world filled with bizarre creatures.
Most film versions of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) end up as ridiculous pantomimes that feature cameos from big-name stars in ill-fitting costumes – guilty offenders being Alice in Wonderland (1933), Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1972) and the Irwin Allen tv mini-series Alice in Wonderland (1985). This version of Alice in Wonderland from cult surrealist animator Jan Svankmajer then is a welcome change.
Jan Svankmajer’s Alice should be more considered a creative variation on a common set of characters than an actual adaptation of the book. Out the window goes all of Carroll’s absurdist poetry; in comes a surreal slapstick. The result comes across more like a version of Eraserhead (1977) as directed by the Henson Creature Workshop than anything that Lewis Carroll ever envisioned. The opening of the film, for example, delightfully announces itself with a pair of lips that appear on screen to say: “”I think I’ll watch a film,” said Alice to herself.” The subsequent introduction of a White Rabbit, which pulls out the nails that hold it in a specimen cage then consults the fob watch it keeps in a hole in its stomach (a hole that is constantly shedding sawdust and which, in one delightfully gross moment, starts to pour out the porridge the Rabbit eats) perfectly dissolves any perception that Alice will be another dogged travelogue through Lewis Carroll and the John Tenniel illustrations.
At the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, a clockwork March Hare sits buttering fob watches. Elsewhere, a frog footman batters flies to death with his very lifelike giant tongue. In one absolutely delightful sequence, a miniature dormouse with a chest tied to its tail sets up camp on top of Alice’s head, nailing tent-pegs into her scalp and then starting a campfire in her hair, before she angrily bats it away. The singularly most bizarre sequence is the pursuit of Alice by The Animals – stop-motion animated ‘things’ seemingly pieced together from animal skeletons, feathers and dolls’ clothing. Nothing seems more guaranteed to boggle the mind than the image of Alice being attacked by a miniature winged bed, or during her subsequent imprisonment in a pantry, watching skeletal baby dinosaurs pop out of eggs and loaves of bread and sprout six inch nails, or seeing a raw steak slither away of its own accord. There is little dialogue to the film – what there is is all relayed through closeups on a pair of lips.
This work of bizarre genius was the feature length debut from Czech clay animator Jan Svakmajer. Svankmajer has developed a considerable cult over the years with the numerous surrealist puppet and Claymation shorts that he has been making since the mid-1960s. Svankmajer has subsequently worked in feature-length films. His other films are the part-live action, part clay-animated Faust (1994); Conspirators of Pleasure (1996), a surrealist film about sexual fetishism; Otesanek/Little Otek (2000) about a couple who raise a wooden log as a baby; Lunacy (2005) about madmen running an insane asylum; and the photographic cutout animated Surviving Life (2010) with its bizarre conundrum of dream and reality; and Insect (2018). All of these contain the same surreal and bizarre sense of humour and feature clay animation to one degree or another.
The other screen adaptations of Alice in Wonderland are:- Alice in Wonderland (1903), a silent British short; Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1910), a silent American short; Alice in Wonderland (1915); Alice Through the Looking Glass (1928); Alice in Wonderland (1931), the first sound version; Paramount’s Alice in Wonderland (1933) with an all-star cast of the day including W.C. Fields, Cary Grant and Gary Cooper; the partly stop-motion animated French Alice in Wonderland (1949); the classic Disney animated version Alice in Wonderland (1951); the NBC tv version Alice in Wonderland (1955); the modernised Hanna-Barbera animated tv special Alice in Wonderland, or What’s a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1966); the NBC tv production Alice Through the Looking Glass (1966); the all-star British film Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1972) featuring Michael Crawford, Ralph Richardson, Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Dudley Moore; the BBC tv production Alice Through the Looking Glass (1974); the Italian tv mini-series In the World of Alice (1974); a 1976 Argentinean film version; a pornographic version Alice in Wonderland (1976); a Spanish film version Alice in Spanish Wonderland (1979); the Belgian film Alice (1982), which features equivalents of the Wonderland characters in the modern world; a US tv production Alice in Wonderland (1982); a US tv version Alice at the Palace (1982) with Meryl Streep as Alice; a BBC musical version A Dream of Alice (1982) with Jenny Agutter as Alice; a British tv series Alice in Wonderland (1985); Irwin Allen’s all-star tv mini-series Alice in Wonderland (1985) featuring Roddy McDowall, Telly Savalas and Shelley Winters; a BBC tv series Alice in Wonderland (1986); the animated Alice Through the Looking Glass (1987); having been combined with the Care Bears in the animated The Care Bears Adventure in Wonderland (1987); Woody Allen’s modernised urban spin Alice (1990); the US tv series Alice in Wonderland (1991); the British tv version Alice Through the Looking Glass (1998) with Kate Beckinsale as Alice and an all-star cast; the Hallmark tv version Alice in Wonderland (1999) with Tina Majorino as Alice and an all-star cast; Alice’s Misadventures in Wonderland (2004), a modernised indie film take on the story; Alice (2009), a modernised tv mini-series starring Caterina Scorsone as Alice entering into a dark science-fictional wonderland; Malice in Wonderland (2009), a modernised British film that translates Wonderland into an urban environment; Alice in Murderland (2010), an Alice in Wonderland-themed slasher film; Tim Burton’s big budget Alice in Wonderland (2010) and its sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016); Alyce (2011), another modernised urban translation; the modernised tv series Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (2013-4); and The Other Side of the Mirror/Alice: The Darker Side of the Mirror (2016), a dark retelling. Also of note is Dennis Potter’s tv play Alice (1965), which explores Lewis Carroll’s relationship with Alice Liddell, the young girl who became the model for Alice, and his later film script Dreamchild (1985) in which the real-life Alice reminisces back on her memories of Lewis Carroll and the writing of the story.