Czech animator Jan Svankmajer is one of the most original artists – and one of the most surreal and unsettling – working in stop-motion. Working in both claymation and pixilation (animation of found objects), he creates worlds where bizarre metamorphoses become commonplace and ordinary objects take on ominous life even when they’re still. In his first feature-length film, he brings this sensibility to his adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories.
Alice is played by a real girl, but her stuffed rabbit comes to life and leads her to a weird world full of stop-motion and pixilated creatures. (And when Alice shrinks, she becomes a doll.) The scissor-wielding rabbit also turns out to be the Queen’s executioner.
It’s worth remembering that Svankmajer’s homeland was still part of Communist Eastern Europe when the film was made (indeed, some of his earlier shorts were disturbing and idiosyncratically personal enough that they briefly got him banned from filmmaking). It’s hard not to read Alice as both a child’s nightmare and as a political allegory, about a land where authority is arbitrary and cruel, and where reason fails. Never has the link between Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka seemed more apparent.