Bizzaro Movie Review: Alice

Yep, you read it right. I’ve gone soft and decided to review one of these moviefilm thingies. Why? you may ask. Mostly it’s because I want to expand your horizons to include a truly unusual and astounding works of celuloid art. Also, it might have a tiny little something to do with the fact that I haven’t quite finished reading the book I had planned for this week.

Alice, a film directed by Jan Svankmajer is a surreal adaptation of the surreal book Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

But It certainly isn’t the only film adaptation. In fact it would be improper to speak of the impact of this film without acknowledging the efforts that came both before and after. Of course, the Walt Disney animated version of the story is probably the most famous, but according to my research (which consisted of me checking Wikipedia, so there high school teachers) there have been twenty-three different film and television adaptations, the most recent of which was the abomination of cinema directed by Tim Burton.

In fact Burton’s film presents an excellent starting point for understanding just why Jan Svankmajer’s is so brilliant. Burton’s film was a big budget blockbuster, designed to appeal to millions. The problem is that Alice in Wonderland isn’t a very appealing story. In fact, it isn’t truly a story at all. In my view Burton’s main failure was that he tried to inject drama into a narrative that has none.

The mad hatter is not a leader of a rebel army. Alice is not the last best hope for Wonderland. The Jaberwock is not a dragon. And Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are not not not NOT IN WONDERLAND!

Whew. I’m glad I got that off my chest. Anyway, the main point is, that whatever magic the original story had came from the fact that it wasn’t a story at all, but rather a series of random and surreal events happening in a disjointed almost dreamlike manner. Jan Svankmajer’s Alice gets this. Not only does it get it, it embraces it with open arms.

At one point as I was watching the movie with my wife she asked “Why is Alice hiding from the white rabbit, when before she wanted him to take her with him?”

To which I replied, “This is a movie where stuffed animals come to life. This is a movie with socks that burrow holes through a wooden floor. This a movie with a character that has the body of a crocodile, bird skull for a head and is wearing a Santa hat. There is no reason. That’s the point.”

In fact the pure genius of Alice is that Jan Svankmajer seems to have looked at Lewis Caroll’s original work and said to himself, “You know this isn’t nearly weird enough.” And while the basic plot follows the original text pretty closely, Svankmajer’s visual interpretation of it is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. All the special effects are done with stop motion animation, which, rather than taking away from the movie’s believability adds volumes to its creepy surrealism.

This is definitely not a movie you want to show to your kids. Unless you want your kids to have the best nightmares ever. Tim Burton thinks he’s got unique visual style? He’s got nothing on Jan Svankmajer. Don’t believe me? This is Tim Burton’s rendering of the caterpillar.

This is Jan Svankmajer’s version of the same character:

Tell me that isn’t just wrong.

Bottom line. I liked this film. Sort of. In a squirming uncomfortable squicked out kind of way. As with most of the books I review here it probably isn’t for everyone. But if you love the original book as much as I do, if you’ve yearned to see a movie made by someone who understands the original source material, then you owe to yourself to see this movie. I promise you there will never be another like it.

4 responses to “Bizzaro Movie Review: Alice

  1. In the 60’s Alice and her trip was a drug metaphor “Go ask Alice when she’s ten feet tall…” Later we likened her story to the Iliad and ancient cultural stories that had their cultural foundations in the story as the character or went throng a particular apotheosis meaningful to the ethos of those cultures. Epic tales. Pinocchio can be interpreted in this sense as well.

  2. From your review, I think I’d have nightmares from this BUT it looks TOTALLY original and “bad-ass.”

    Coincidentally, I just REposted an old fave from and it looks all-too-familiar juxtaposed with this film’s caterpillar.

  3. I’m intrigued. I have always loved Alice’s adventures in all of their glorious strangeness (and thank you for pointing out the misplaced Tweedles in Burton’s film).

    This sounds like an interesting look at the story – I see it’s available for streaming from Netflix, so I can easily watch it on my own (because I know no one else in my family will be interested).

  4. Thankyou so much for this reveiw. I’ve loved Alice in Wonderland as long as I can remember and even put on a puppet production of it in my garden using kitchen utensils. Svankmajer is one of the greatest film-makers ever and has made many interesting adaptations including Faust. Tim Burton is a right-wing ludricous slimeball whose art gave rise to that most sickening of art forms: Pop Surrealism.

    Again, thanks for the post.

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