For this review, we’re jumping back to the 1980s for a surreal film adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Writer/director Jan Svankmajer takes us on a wild and crazy adventure (not quite down a rabbit hole) is his “Alice.”
What makes this “Alice” stand out from the others is the stylistic choices Svankmajer makes, some that work and some that don’t.
Alice (Kristna Kohoutov) is the only human we see in the picture; the other characters are animated, puppets, etc. For a movie made in 1988, the animation (set in a huge dilapidated house) is quite impressive; sure, it’s not “Avatar” level, but more than once I kept asking “how did they do that?”
On the flip side, like it’s spiritual sibling “L’Age D’Or,” “Alice” is mostly told through the visuals, which allows the director to show off his impressive imagination (not to mention his technical prowess), but is a bit distancing for the audience. Kristna Kohoutov gives an impressive, mostly silent, performance that works because we already know this prissy schoolgirl so well.
The hyper-visual style offers tons of eye candy (although you might not like what is shows you), but it also tends to make the film hard to focus on. I watched it in about 3-4 installments, which is a lot considering the movie clocks in at 86 minutes, but trust me, should you decide to watch it (and I mostly think it’s worth the trip), the breaks help out a lot.
Another limiting factor, but a minor one, is the narrator. Whenever a character speaks, be it Alice, White Rabbit or the Queen of Hearts, Svankmajer cuts to a pair of lips, just to say “Yelled the Queen of Hearts,” or “Thought Alice to herself.” It begins to grate after the 20th cutaway or so, and it’s something that is there for no reason whatsoever. It wasn’t a dealbreaker, at least for me, but it’s a big flaw in a film that has a lot to offer.
“Alice In Wonderland” was always about a little girl who loves following the rules so much that she’s sucked all the adventure out of her young life; Wonderland, and her little adventures through it, gives her the escape she needs to put some zest back in to her daily life. This Alice is just as curious as her forbearers, just as interested in catching up with a formerly stuffed and mounted White Rabbit (with a taste for sawdust) and having a good sit down with the Caterpillar (who lives on a wooden mushroom); she just lives in a darker world.
Some of you will probably love the darker take, and others might not; flaws and all, it’s worth seeing it just to find out.
Written and directed by Jan Svankmajer
Starring: Kristna Kohoutov (Alice)