Neco Z Alenky (AKA: Alice) (1988)

Neco Z Alenky (AKA: Alice) – 1988

Director – Jan Svankmajer

Starring – Kristyna Kohoutova

The story of Alice and her journey through wonderland is a dark and surreal one.  Animals talk, nothing is as it should be, and anger and fear are the emotions of choice.  As a kid, I was fascinated by the illustrations from the book.  They provided a very accurate portrayal of the sense of unease that I got from the story.  There was a danger mixed with the serene and a malice blended into the everyday.  This is a feeling that is perfectly recreated by the film Alice, stop-motion animated creatures made up of bones, rusty utensils, taxidermy and all.

It was just this last weekend that I ventured out to see the most recent re-make of the Alice in Wonderland, the one by Tim Burton, and I thought it appropriate that I should review this little known version.  While the newer film is the victim of re-writes, and computer-generated everything, this version, directed by cult animator Jan Svankmajer, stays faithful to the original text and feels like a flea market come to life.  The only live action actor (actress in this case) is Kristyna Kohoutova, as the curious and plucky Alice.  Every other inhabitant of Wonderland is created through the stop-motion animation technique, and is a patch work of animal bones, stuffed and mounted animals of every variety, and old, weathered household items stalking around with a sense of malicious purpose.

It’s odd that someone like Burton, who was so clearly inspired by, and borrowed from films like Alice, strayed so far from this successful cocktail in his own re-telling.  The fact that we can see the strings and the seams of each creation, manages to make it that much more dangerous and foreign to us.  There is danger around every corner for this young girl, yet she bravely plods onward without so much as a second thought.  The closest thing to a guide she has is the mangy looking white rabbit, who is continually leaking sawdust.   The Queen of Hearts, her court and her soldiers, are literally made up of a deck of cards, and when she shrinks, Alice turns from a live actress into a disturbing little china doll.  Wonderland itself is made up of a series of rooms, each more intriguing and bizarre than the last.

The one failing I would place on Alice, is the fact that while each of its characters is creepy, there is little to differentiate between them.  The March Hare and the Mad Hatter are just as off-putting and strange as the White Rabbit and the Queen of Hearts, making the disturbing effect of watching them wear off a little too soon.  By the end it was a little too repetitive, and as a result I was drawn out of the movie.

As far as adaptations of this story goes, Alice is far better than the most recent version, but still remains third behind the imagination of the Disney animated version, and the beyond surreal TV version with Sammy Davis Jr. and, God help us, Carol Channing scaring the shit out of me by turning into a goat!  All in all, Alice is a very fun watch.

“Bitch need some chapstick!” – Ashley

5 thoughts on “Neco Z Alenky (AKA: Alice) (1988)

  1. Reading your aptly timed review, I decided to dust off my copy of this film and give it a look. I find this to be certainly quite an interesting take and certainly worth a look. Amazing in its use of taxidermy as a means of creating creatures. The only aspect I found distracting was the narrative, while ok for identifying the characters speaking, was a bit distracting since it was also accompanied by the close-up of Alice’s lips speaking the narrative, out of sync with the translated dialog.

    • I have to agree, the constantly cutting back to the mouth close up was a strange choice. The only thing I can imagine is that it was supposed to communicate something about the nature of the reality of the story. Was she re-counting her dream to someone? Did she make the entire story up, her falling asleep included? Or was it just a bad choice made with the intention of keeping the one human character straight? Good call on that, I forgot to mention it.

  2. Just added this to my netflix queue (it’s even available for streaming). I was extremely underwhelmed by the Burton one so I’m hoping this is a breath of fresh air.

    • That’s actually how I happened to see it too! I thought the Burton version started out pretty well, but stagnated pretty quickly. It was a lot better than I thought it would be though, I went in expecting to hate the shit out of it.

  3. Pingback: 1001 Movies – The Complete List | 1001 Movies…Before I Die!

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