Czechoslovak theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jan Švankmajer|
|Produced by||Peter-Christian Fueter|
|Screenplay by||Jan Švankmajer|
|Based on||Alice's Adventures in Wonderland|
by Lewis Carroll
|Edited by||Marie Zemanová|
|Distributed by||First Run Features|
Alice is a 1988 dark fantasy film written and directed by Jan Švankmajer. Its original Czech title is Něco z Alenky, which means "Something from Alice". It is a loose adaptation of Lewis Carroll's first Alice book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), about a girl who follows a white rabbit into a bizarre fantasy land. Alice is played by Kristýna Kohoutová. The film combines live action with stop motion animation, and is distinguished by its dark and uncompromising production design.
For Švankmajer, a prolific director of short films for more than two decades, Alice became his first venture into feature-length filmmaking. The director had been disappointed by other adaptations of Carroll's book, which interpret it as a fairy tale. His aim was instead to make the story play out like an amoral dream. The film won the feature film award at the 1989 Annecy International Animated Film Festival.
The film opens on Alice sitting by a brook. A close-up of her mouth informs the audience that they will now see a film, instructing them to close their eyes "otherwise you won't see anything!"
The film goes to Alice (Kristýna Kohoutová) in her sitting room. A mysterious creaking noise draws her attention to a taxidermic White Rabbit in a glass case. Alice hides beneath a writing desk while the Rabbit first dresses himself, then opens a hidden drawer to reveal a pair of scissors with which he smashes the case, freeing himself.
Alice chases the Rabbit out of the house into a field, where she sees a writing desk identical to the one from her sitting room. The Rabbit crawls inside the desk's drawer and disappears. Alice crawls after him and finds herself in a cave, where she stumbles into a wastebasket that turns into in an elevator that deposits her atop a large pile of leaves. Alice searches for the rabbit in the leaves, when the leaves suddenly begin to stir on their own power, eventually revealing another, identical writing desk in which Alice finds a tiny key. Alice uses the key to open a miniature door just in time to see the Rabbit vanish disappear into a painted garden; she herself is much too large to fit.
Alice finds a plate of tarts and eats one, which transforms her into a small china doll identical to herself. Now she is the correct size to fit through the door but finds she has left the key in the writing desk. She then finds a bottle of ink labeled "Drink Me" that causes her to grow enormous. Frustrated, Alice cries until the room floods with tears. The tray of tarts floats past and Alice is able to return herself to doll-size, retrieve the key from the floating desk, and follow the Rabbit.
Once through the door, she finds herself at the banks of a brook in the countryside and encounters the White Rabbit, who mistakes her for his housemaid and commands her to fetch his scissors from his rabbit-cage-like house. While searching for the scissors, she drinks from another ink bottle and returns to her true size, but finds herself trapped inside the now too-small house. The Rabbit and his animal companions try to force her out by launching a skull-head lizard through the window. Alice kicks him away, causing him to burst and spill his sawdust innards. The angry animals finally imprison the girl by submerging her in a pot of milk, trapping her inside a giant Alice-shaped doll, which they lock inside a storage room filled with specimen jars.
Alice breaks free of the doll. Inside a sardine can, she discovers a key and escapes the storage room, stepping into a long hall with many doors. Behind one of them, she meets a stocking-Caterpillar in a room swarming with smaller sock-worms that bore holes in the floor. Alice's own socks crawl off her feet and join the others. In the hallway once more, she follows the sound of a crying baby, which turns out to be a live piglet inside a dollhouse stormed with breaking plates and pots. In another room, a tea party mechanically proceeds without end, hosted by a wind-up March Hare and a wooden marionette Hatter. The Hatter produces the White Rabbit from inside its hat. The Rabbit flees upstairs and Alice follows.
Behind a curtain of old clothes in the attic, Alice discovers a garden of paper flowers clipped from old magazines. The King and Queen of Hearts, followed by a troop of playing cards march into the garden. Two of the Jacks are engaged in a swordfight. The Queen commands the White Rabbit, her executioner, to behead the Jacks; he does so with his scissors. A card-playing Hatter and Hare are also beheaded, only to exchange their heads and keep playing.
The Queen invites Alice to play croquet, only for the game to end in chaos when the mallets and balls turn into live-action chickens and hedgehogs. The White Rabbit delivers a script to a puzzled Alice. She presents herself into a courtroom where she finds herself on trial for eating the Queen's tarts. Alice points out that the tarts are sitting untouched in the courtroom, but the King insists she stick to the script. Annoyed, Alice eats the tarts, which causes her head to shapeshift into that of other characters. The Queen demands all her heads be cut off, and the Rabbit advances toward her with his scissors.
Abruptly, Alice wakes in her sitting room. Around the room are the various household objects that populated her dream: playing cards scattered on her lap, china dolls, socks in a sewing basket. The case that formerly contained the taxadermic rabbit is now shattered and empty. Discovering a hidden drawer in the interior of the broken case, she opens it to reveal the White Rabbit's scissors. Examining the scissors, Alice says to herself, "He's late, as usual. I think I'll cut his head off."
- Kristýna Kohoutová as Alice
In Alice's English version:
- Camilla Power as Alice's voice (uncredited)
Jan Švankmajer, who had been making short films since the mid-1960s, says he got the confidence to make a feature-length film due to finishing the shorts Jabberwocky and Down to the Cellar. He described Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a work which had followed him since he was a child, as "one of the most important and amazing books produced by this civilisation." He argued that other film adaptations of the story had interpreted it as a fairy tale, but that Carroll had written it like a dream, and that was what he wanted to transmit: "While a fairy tale has got an educational aspect – it works with the moral of the lifted forefinger (good overcomes evil), dream, as an expression of our unconscious, uncompromisingly pursues the realisation of our most secret wishes without considering rational and moral inhibitions, because it is driven by the principle of pleasure. My Alice is a realised dream." Despite the film's heavy usage of stop motion, and unlike most other traditional stop motion films, the movie does not utilize any miniature sets to portray its special effects.
The film first premiered in the United States, where it was released on 3 August 1988. It played at the 1989 Annecy International Animated Film Festival where it received the prize for best feature film. In Czechoslovakia it premiered on 1 November 1990. The English dubbed version features the voice of Camilla Power.
In The New York Times, Caryn James wrote that although Švankmajer "strips away all sweetness and light, he does not violate Lewis Carroll's story", and called Alice an "extraordinary film [which] explores the story's dark undercurrents". James described the animation as "remarkably fluid" and held forward the dynamics of the film, which contrasts visually captivating elements with superficiality: "Mr. Švankmajer never lets us forget we are watching a film in which an actress plays Alice telling a story", although, "with its extreme close-ups, its constant motion and its smooth animation, the film is so visually active that it distracts us from a heavy-handed fact - this is a world of symbols come alive." Upon the British home-media release in 2011, Philip Horne reviewed the film for The Daily Telegraph. Horne called it "an astonishing film", and wrote: "This is no cleaned up version approved by preview audiences or committees of studio executives – my youthful fellow-spectator declared quite aptly at one point, 'She's rather a violent young girl, isn't she?' – but its glorious proliferation of magical transformations works like a charm on anyone who values the imagination." The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes has Alice with a "Fresh" rating of 100% based on 18 reviews.
- Stafford, Mark; Sélavy, Virginie (14 June 2011). "Interview with Jan Švankmajer". Electric Sheep Magazine. Archived from the original on 23 June 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-08.
- Jefferson, David (1989). "Annecy Animation Festival 1989". Animator Magazine (25): 8. Archived from the original on 12 September 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-08.
- "Něco z Alenky (1988)". České filmové nebe (in Czech). Retrieved 9 July 2011.
- James, Caryn (3 August 1988). "An 'Alice' for Adults". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
- Horne, Philip (23 May 2011). "Alice, DVD review". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 2 June 2014. Retrieved 2011-07-09.
- B., Michael (26 October 2010). "Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)". Blu-ray.com. Retrieved 29 November 2010.
- "Buy Alice (Dual Format Edition) - Alice". shop.bfi.org.uk. Retrieved 11 December 2016.