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Category:    Home > Reviews > Animation > Stop-Motion > Alice (1988/adult stop-motion animation/First Run DVD)

Alice (adult animation)


Picture: C     Sound: C-     Extras: C+     Film: B



          Where is this film’s cult?

          Alice, the first feature by Czech filmmaker and animation guru Jan Svankmajer, is a small but spectacular oddity that has somehow been overlooked by “cinema of the weird” devotees.  Surrealism is full tilt as Svankmajer – card-carrying member of the Prague Surrealist Group – interprets Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” with a mixture of one live actress, a ton of stop-motion animation, and all the darker elements that Disney set aside.

          Little Alice, played – essentially without a word – by Kristyna Kohoutova, is dreaming of course (the opening voiceover states that before we begin, she must close her eyes), turning the junk of some strange room into the stuff of her nightmares.  A fleeing rabbit, literally a hunting trophy come to life, re-animated via stop-motion – who’s “late for the queen” draws Alice down into a maze of perilous chambers where she encounters all manner of bizarre creatures and grows and shrinks (to doll form) when she bites a cookie or sips some ink.  She catches up to the rabbit here and there when he stops to replenish the sawdust in his stomach – one of the film’s many deliciously odd images; another of the rabbit’s moments is a nod to Kubrick’s The Shining that had me laughing out loud.  As madness runs higher and higher – by the time we reach the Mad Hatter, it’s all completely unhinged – Alice remains curiously unconcerned; unsurprised even.  It’s an interesting touch – Alice is technically creating all this – that Kohoutova, with her remarkably expressive face, pulls off nicely.

          Svankmajer’s style brings to mind Terry Gilliam, who also has a background in animation, with his gleeful and inspired mess-making, and author Roald Dahl, whose children’s stories really put young characters through the wringer.  But the animation of Alice definitely has a signature on it.  It’s rough – next to Disney’s polished efforts The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, it has the charming look of something created by hand by a small but professional crew – and aggressive – the use of real (once living) animals and skeletons is unique and striking.  You’ll want more.  You’ll want to get to know Mr. Svankmajer.

          The picture and sound quality of First Run Features’ Alice disc, though far from exemplary, are acceptable.  Presented full frame (1.33:1), which appears to be correct, the source print is a bit on the spotty side, with a fair amount of artifacts and other blemishes.  The transfer is surprisingly sharp, though, considering, and visible compression is minimal.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono soundtrack does little more than serve its purpose; it sounds full and reasonably clear, but otherwise unremarkable.

          The disc’s sole extra is Darkness Light Darkness, a 7 minute short by Svankmajer.  Picture and sound quality are lacking, but the film itself, like Alice, is a grimy, handmade treasure.



-  Chad Eberle


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