Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is already pretty mental, so when I read that this version by Czechoslovakian director Jan Svankmajer was “memorably bizarre,” I strapped myself in for a rollercoaster of ridiculousness, and I was not left wanting.
A terrifying stuffed rabbit – animated via stop motion – bites through its restraints with eyes bulging like a cartoon, dons gloves, coat and a hat, checks its pocket watch and escaped through the drawer of a writing desk that is only a little bit like a raven. Oh, and the rabbit has ripped a gash in its chest that continually leaks sawdust like an open wound. The young Alice (Kristyna Kohoutova) follows the rabbit along a carpet of set squares and rulers and down an elevator past jars of drawing pins in chutney and various animal skulls with eyeballs.
I won’t ruin all the insanity, though there is plenty here to suffice, but rest assured some of the regular Alice beats are present – the shrinking potion and growing cake, the caterpillar, the Mad Hatter’s tea party and the King and Queen of Heart’s, but the question begs to be asked that, if everything in between the main points has been dramatically changed, why not just make a different story altogether? Plus, it takes far too long for Alice to get to Wonderland (if that’s what they’re still calling it). Imagine if Frodo didn’t leave the Shire until near the end of the Two Towers, or Harry didn’t get to Hogwarts until two hours into the Philosopher’s Stone, yet the books remained the same.
If I’d seen this as a child, chances are I’d still wake up screaming. From the burrowing inflatable sock-worms, the carnivorous animal skeletons reminiscent of Toy Story’s franken-toys, baguettes sprouting nails, living steaks, Alice crying enough to flood a room and a swimming rat hammering a campfire into Alice’s head, this is nightmarish to the highest degree. Also, who the hell is in charge of screwing on the doorknobs in this world, because they’re doing a terrible job.
Choose life 5/10