Starring: Kristýna Kohoutová
Director: Jan Švankmajer
Running Time: 86 mins
Alice (Něco z Alenky) is a Czechoslovakian film about a young girl who, after following her rabbit into a deep underworld, finds herself in a strange land of wonder, and threatened on all sides by the eccentric inhabitants.
It’s films like this that show why remakes, retellings and adaptations can be such a force for greatness. Alice In Wonderland is a legendary tale, brought to life on the big screen in so many different ways, and while Disney’s version is certainly the most renowned, there likely isn’t one quite so unique and striking as Jan Švankmajer’s Alice – a bizarre and unsettling yet thoroughly entertaining revisiting of the classic tale.
There’s a lot to love about Alice, and while it may not seem like the most accessible watch for general audiences, it actually proves to be a brilliantly easy-going watch, only with the added potential for further interpretation as you wish.
At its core, the story is pretty much an exact retelling of Alice In Wonderland. Alice follows the rabbit down the hole, she meets the Mad Hatter at the Tea Party, she comes across the Caterpillar, and plays a game of croquet with the Queen of Hearts. There is, of course, a lot more unique storytelling at play under the surface, but the fact that this does have a story that follows the line of the original story so closely is testament to how unique and striking its own style is.
Because, while the fantasy tale is good fun in and of itself, it’s director Jan Švankmajer’s eye-catching style that really carries this film. Billed as a dark twist on the classic tale, the movie makes ingenious use of story elements that, while cute and fun in the original, can just as easily be interpreted to be something far more sinister. The story doesn’t really change from the way it is in the original, but it’s the way that it’s presented which makes a world of difference.
Not only playing out at a slower pace in a more grim setting, Švankmajer brilliantly turns everything you thought you loved about both Alice In Wonderland and children’s fairytales on its head, using typical tropes of children’s films and storybooks to twistedly deepen this film’s often overwhelmingly unsettling atmosphere.
That’s achieved in many ways, firstly through the unnervingly innocent performance from Kristýna Kohoutová, but most of all through the use of stop-motion animation. The extent to which the film uses stop motion is already impressive, and for its time, it’s quite a technical marvel. However, not only does the stop motion work on a superficial level, but it also creates an unsettling twist on an animation style that’s more reminiscent of classic children’s movies like The Neverending Story.
Through that, Alice features a brilliant running twist on the innocence of its source material, taking you further and further down into an entirely valid but unsettlingly dark portrayal of the story that you thought you loved so well.
And on top of all of that, Alice is a film with a great sense of humour. It may seem strange to say at first, but the movie is filled with laughs. Most of the humour isn’t achieved through simple slapstick, however, but through the almost mind-bogglingly unsettling style and reinterpretation of Alice In Wonderland, as well as a deliciously dark layer of irony at every moment, reversing tropes and typical ideas surrounding the story, fairytales in general and even the contemporary political situation.
As a result, there’s a whole lot more to Alice than first meets the eye. You can simply watch it as a retelling of Alice In Wonderland, and (while it may absolutely terrify children) it can make for an entertaining watch. But beneath the surface, director Jan Švankmajer employs brilliant techniques to surprise and shock throughout, and although that shock value isn’t quite as potent come the end, he still creates a deeply unsettling and simultaneously entertianing film that’s simply one of the strangest fairytales you’ll come across, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.6 overall.