Few stories have been adapted in as many different ways as ‘Alice In Wonderland’ has. Lewis Caroll’s fairytale has been told via mediums as diverse as Disney movies, experimental plays, TV shows and, yes, even a series of erotic graphic novels. Its best adaptation to date, however, comes from an unlikely source: iconic Czech Republic animator Jan Švankmajer. Simply titled ‘Alice’, his feature film tells Alice’s surreal adventure into Wonderland by blending live action with stop-motion animation and puppetry.
‘Alice’ was made on limited resources. It was quite clearly filmed in a workshop – no attempts are made to disguise that fact. However, the film is a testament to what can be achieved on a low budget when you have vision and talent like Jan Švankmajer has. Every character Alice meets along her journey has been lovingly hand-crafted by Švankmajer and his team, from the sock puppet caterpillar to the eerie wooden marionette representing the Mad Hatter. Their detailed designs are a curious wonder to behold. They are both beautiful and nightmarish.
Švankmajer’s visual wizardy, which bears comparison with the late 1800s shorts by Georges Méliès, brings Alice’s encounters with each of these characters to life. He uses deceptive camerawork to visualise her descent into Wonderland through a chest of drawers, for instance, and creates different sized sets to fulfil the illusion that Alice shrinks and expands when she drinks a blue potion. ‘Alice’ is a work of boundless visual creativity that with every scene offers new displays of mind-boggling technical inventiveness. As the best cinema always should, ‘Alice’ uses the ordinary to create magic.
‘Alice’ is 14th in our ranking of the best movies of 1988. You can find the full list in our 1988 Year In Review series.