This adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland mixes animation and live action to create a dreamlike world, but don't let that fool you into thinking it's simply a kid's film. Young Alice (Kristyna Kohoutová, spoke... more »n by Camilla Power) watches a stuffed and mounted rabbit come to life in her playroom and follows it through a magical drawer into a strange world that resembles a 19th-century toy store come to life, with a few specimens from a natural history museum thrown in. Czech animator Jan Svankmajer retains the familiar story elements but tweaks them with bizarre imagery brought to herky-jerky life with his spasmodic style of stop-motion animation. The caterpillar becomes a sock puppet with dentures, while other crazy creatures materialize as creepy skull-headed beings that bleed sawdust. Throughout the tale Svankmajer returns to punctuating close-ups of Alice's lips telling the story, just to remind us that this is a tale told. In the best surrealist tradition Svankmajer uses familiar objects in unfamiliar ways, giving a fantasy quality to the banal (and the not so banal) while tipping the dream logic to the edge of nightmare. While the imagery remains more unsettling than genuinely disturbing, younger children will certainly be happier with Disney's brightly colored animated classic Alice in Wonderland. Older children and adults will better appreciate Svankmajer's sly visual wit and unusual animation style. --Sean Axmaker« less
D. Knouse | vancouver, washington United States | 05/12/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There are only two negatives to this film that I felt were mostly unnecessary elements. One was the frequent edit to a close-up of Alice's, excuse me "Alenka's," tiny mouth and stained yellow teeth saying things like "Said the White Rabbit" or "Said the Queen of Hearts." By the time this monotony reached the double-digits I was getting annoyed. I knew which character said what, and I didn't need a constant reminder. The other negative, and this is up for debate, is that I don't like foreign films that are dubbed in English. Call me crazy, but I prefer subtitles. There is always something lost in the translation. Well, enough of my negativity. There is plenty here worth seeing, and if you are a genuine nut-case for stop-motion filmmaking than you should thoroughly enjoy this movie. This is not a children's film! There are way too many unnerving and nightmarish sequences. In fact, this film feels like a surreal nightmare! There's a slab of meat that squirms into a pot, there are little rat skulls breaking out of egg shells, and my favorite moment of the film comes when Alice is being chased by the White Rabbit and his grotesque friends. Alice slams the door and bars the smaller door at the base. Suddenly, an axe-head bursts through the tiny door repeatedly until it is completely splintered. The axe withdraws and the head of the White Rabbit(a stuffed rabbit with sawdust for entrails) pokes through and he seems to stare at Alice with an evil glare from his glassy white eyes. I expected him to say "Heeeere's Thumper!" That was the creepiest moment for me, but there are others. There are also some wrenching sound effects that add some excellent flavor to the nightmarish proceedings. If it wasn't for the extremely annoying and frequent cutaways to Alice's slimy mouth I may have given this film a higher rating. That, and she has a gross habit of puting everything she finds into her mouth. One thing she tries is a key she finds inside a sardine tin filled with oil. Instead of wiping the key clean on her dress she gives it one good, long slurp. Yuck! Even she grimaced, much to my delight. "Overall, this is a good movie with plenty of jarring scenes and dream-like sequences that are haunting me to this day," said the Amazon.com reviewer. There is also a short stop-motion film on this DVD that is "definitely" not for children, but it does have some humorous moments. Take it easy."
A film for children. . . sort of
Clandestine42 | Los Angeles | 12/10/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a film for children. . . sort of, with these ominous words we enter a decaying, claustrophobic wonderland filled with rusty drafting instruments, filthy shards of pottery, lots of sawdust and ageing specimen jars. Watching this movie is like being locked in a closet for a few hours, not exactly fun but impossible to escape. Alice herself undergoes the transformation from a barefoot little girl to a nineteenth century china doll exquisitley animated by the master of stop motion animation as she crawls through desk drawers and grim hallways. the famillar characters of wonderland become rotting museum displays scurrying about like nightmarish clockwork toys. the sound effects add considerably to the eldritch atmosphere - splintering wood, grating metal, and what sounds like some sort of ratchet create a disturbing effect, further reminding us how far from reality we are. this is definitely the best adaptation of Lewis Carrols masterpiece, and the rarest of all commodities - an original voice."
The Living Dead in Wonderland...
amazon customer | carmel-by-the-sea, ca. | 07/09/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"As an Alice fanatic I had been looking forward to Jan Svankmajer's film, but I am suspicious it will eventually give me nightmares. I also am a lover of the macabre and surreal, so perhaps I was just not in the right frame of mind for this sort of thing... We have Alice, as her true size played by a real life little girl, who then morphs into a porcelain doll when she shrinks. There is something basely terrifying about the blank china doll, and I really felt like locking it in a closet whenever it was onscreen. The White Rabbit, a dead stuffed sawdust-leaking rabbit with big fake eyes and hideous teeth is even more horrific! The other classic characters, all brought to life by stop-art animation, are almost equally repulsive. Wonderland itself isn't anything like it is in the book or film adaptations, Disney especially. No fantasy cottages or magical gardens here. It's as if the new setting alternated between the basement of an Old World morgue and a dilapidated Old World tenement, through which Alice wanders room to room. One unsettling aspect of the film is its lack of background noise. Apart from it's piercing sound effects there is absolutely no music and no score, only intensifying the nightmarish landscape. Another oddity is the way Alice tells the story. The bits of dialogue, though brief, are constantly & bothersome-ly punctuated by a girl's voice finishing off the speech with: "Said the White Rabbit," or "Said Alice to herself." These punctuations are shot as full close-ups of Alice's mouth, and since the original Czechoslovakian dialogue has been dubbed over with English it has a rather irritating effect... Look out for the disturbing scene where the White Rabbit and Co. capture Alice and throw her in a dark pantry full of freakish sundries! This film is definately not for children--I can't say this any other way! Imagine Sesame Street if all the Muppets were little corpses several weeks dead, rotting & grossly skeletal! I still rate this movie fairly high, despite my adversion to it, as I am guessing this was Svankmajer's ultimate intention, and it does all come down to individual preference and mood. Maybe rent this one first or borrow a friend's copy before putting out the money. I can't see myself ever watching "Alice" on a regular basis. I guess I'll save her for Halloweentime or a dark and stormy evening when frightening dreams are called for. If you feel like visiting a bleak imaginary world then may I recommend "Nightmare Before Christmas," where the characters are much more on the adorable side..."
Labor of Love
Misao Misako | Boston, MA | 01/26/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Czech animator Svankmajer's "Alice" is an outlandish work of genius. It is based on Lewis Carroll's classic "Alice in Wonderland" but this is definitely the filmmaker's own take on things, and a surreal take it is. Alice (a live girl) is half asleep in a lonely attic when a stuffed rabbit (stop-motion animation) in a glass case pulls up his nailed-down feet, rips a pocket watch out of his own sawdust stuffing, and we're off on an eerie adventure. Much of the film is very quiet; there is no background music, just superb, tactile sound effects that help us appreciate every loving, weird detail that comes along. Of these there are many; Svankmajer, like Carroll, has the true surrealist's eye for simple images that are extremely powerful and memorable, but for reasons our conscious mind can't possibly explain. Occasionally Alice herself speaks any necessary dialogue, as if narrating her own dream; we often cut to a shot of her lips moving and completely unrelated words come out in English with a delightful British accent. (Some reviewers below have found this apparent disconnect between the moving lips and the English speech annoying but I found it strangely magical, and very much intentional on the filmmaker's part.) The detailed puppetry amid these claustrophobic indoor diorama sets is wonderfully done. A few bits of this film might freak out little kids, but they will probably be bewildered anyway. Instead, adults who appreciate carefully done, brilliant, undigital whimsy will hopefully enjoy this little jewel as much as I did; I first watched with intrigued delight, and every few years I like to watch it again."
A very different Alice
wiredweird | Earth, or somewhere nearby | 01/03/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This disk contains two features. "Darkness, Light, Darkness" is a claymation short, and very odd. The main feature, "Alice", combines live action with stop-animation and is even more peculiar. I like both, even though I'm not wholly sure what to make of either.
DLD is all staged in a small room. A person arrives, over the course of the piece, one body part at a time. A hand comes first, then eyes, another hand, the senses, body, and (very late) brain. The whole person is built up from the parts as they arrive and is finally completed - within the room, trapped by doors and windows much too small to allow it to escape.
"Alice" is the most memorable Alice in Wonderland that I've seen. It features only one living actor. She's a young girl, maybe eight years old - a brilliant piece of casting and brilliant in simply being herself. She wears a pretty pink dress and a serious expression throughout. She also wears her smudges and snarls unselfconciously, tends to throw stones, and never shies from the violence implicit in Lewis Carroll's original story.
Svankmajer wanders back and forth across Carroll's story, intersecting at many points. Whether inside Carroll's script or out, Svankmajer aways presents his own vision, one that tends towards the macabre. The White Rabbit is a taxidermy specimen, often leaking sawdust and often licking it back up again. Instead of a mirror, Alice walks through a drawer in a drafting table - the artist's "mirror" on his world - and walks through others at many transitions.
Maybe half the movie is stop-motion animation, but the distinctions are not alway clear. Like Harryhausen, Svankmajer often combines model animation with the real girl. Going beyond Harryhausen, he uses the girl as animation material - the cook-fire on her head being the clearest example. The animation itself tends to be jerky, but very expressive. The caterpillar, for example, is a sock-puppet on a sewing form. When his part is over, he shuts his heyes and goes to sleep. The difference, though, is that his eyes are shut for him, sewn shut by darning needles.
There is remarkably little use of voice, except for a few points where the girl acts as a puppet-like narrator. Only the trial near the end uses much conversation, and that owes more to Kafka ("Say what you're supposed to say," said The King) than to Carroll.