It’s Alice in Wonderland with an edge; perhaps one that it always had until it was watered down for the children. Yet legendary Czech animator Jan Svankmajer (Faust), who mixes live action with animated creatures in the most un-Disney and Hollywood way possible is offering a children’ tale a little truer to Lewis Carroll’ original vision. It’s just that it’s a little darker than normal, more Dark Crystal than Finding Nemo. Hopefully the kids are into a bit of surrealism and dream logic though as this 1988 debut feature for Svankmajer has Alice discovering a desert in her bedroom and following a stuffed rabbit into a desk drawer that opens up into a shed that leads to, well more weirdness. When she eats cookies she shrinks and becomes her doll. When she cries the room fills with water, a rat paddles past in a rowboat, climbs on her head and sets a fire to her hair to cook his beans. It’s a film that possesses a cruel sinister logic yet at the same time an innocent sense of wonder. Whilst she’ chased by a bunch of skeletal creatures that look like they’ve walked off the set of a Nightmare Before Christmas (c’mon Tim Burton own up to where you got the idea from), the rabbit does throw stones at her and the Queen of Hearts does threaten to cut off her head, there are numerous moments of joy and wonder for Alice in her adventure. The Mad Hatter seems friendly if not a little weird and the sock creature offers some helpful advice, even if her own socks try to escape to be with their kind. Technically, it’s a remarkable effort, there’ never been anything like it before, so much so that it’s a little bit overwhelming, yet the key is the nonsense logic imbued with a good natured dose of innocent weirdness.
-Bob Baker Fish