Alice (1988 film)

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Czechoslovak theatrical release poster
Directed by Jan Švankmajer
Produced by Peter-Christian Fueter
Screenplay by Jan Švankmajer
Based on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll
Starring Kristýna Kohoutová
Cinematography Svatopluk Malý
Edited by Marie Zemanová
Distributed by First Run Features
Release date
  • 3 August 1988 (1988-08-03) (United States)
  • 1 November 1990 (1990-11-01) (Czechoslovakia)
Running time
86 minutes[1]
Country Czechoslovakia
United Kingdom
West Germany
Soviet Union
Language Czech

Alice is a 1988[1] dark fantasy film written and directed by Jan Švankmajer. Its original Czech title is Něco z Alenky, which means "Something from Alice". It is a loose adaptation of Lewis Carroll's first Alice book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), about a girl who follows a white rabbit into a bizarre fantasy land. Alice is played by Kristýna Kohoutová. The film combines live action with stop motion animation, and is distinguished by its dark and uncompromising production design.

For Švankmajer, a prolific director of short films for more than two decades, Alice became his first venture into feature-length filmmaking. The director had been disappointed by other adaptations of Carroll's book, which interpret it as a fairy tale. His aim was instead to make the story play out like an amoral dream. The film won the feature film award at the 1989 Annecy International Animated Film Festival.


A bored Alice (Kristýna Kohoutová) narrates to herself a series of events and characters that portrays a surreal tour into Wonderland, starting with a taxidermically stuffed White Rabbit coming to life, dressing up from a hidden drawer and escaping from its glass box. Alice follows the Rabbit inside a desk on top of a hill that appears next to the room, and soon after she finds herself heading downstairs in an elevator displaying strange household items to finally fall into a room with a tiny locked door at the lower base of a large door.

Alice shrinks and enlarges her size by drinking from an ink bottle and eating from a cookie that suddenly appears. Frustrated by still being unable to go through the tiny door where the Rabbit wanders, an enlarged Alice floods the room with her tears. Then, a sailing mouse docks on her head and tries to prepare a cooking fire with her hair. A displeased Alice submerges and the mouse swims away. Soon after, she is able to go through the door by shrinking again with some cookies that produce out of nowhere in the waters.

She finds herself at the banks of a brook in the countryside, and encounters the White Rabbit who mistakes her for "Mary", his maid, and commands her to find the rest of his attire in his rabbit-cage-like house. While looking, she accidentally enlarges herself by eating candies labeled "Eat Me"; and is unable to move due to her size, much to the Rabbit and other surreal animals' horror. they try to kick the giant Alice out of the house. Alice resists, and the Rabbit angers after she kicks away a skull-head lizard stuffed with sawdust. They finally imprison the girl by submerging her in a pot of milk, which cocoons her into an "Alice-like" shell and they lock her away inside a storage.

Alice escapes her "Alice cocoon" and decides to be mindful onwards. She finds the key of the storage inside a sardine can and continues her journey into a hallway with many doors. In them, she meets a sock-like Caterpillar in between a room swarming with sock-like worms; follows baby cries that turned out to be a piglet's from inside a dollhouse stormed with breaking plates and pots; and a teaparty mechanically proceeding without end and hosted by a Hare stuffed animal, a wooden-puppet Hatter and a teacup-slurping ferret. Then, the Hatter produces the White Rabbit from inside its hat, the rabbit flees upstairs and Alice follows him.

She finds a colorful paper garden behind bedclothes hanging in an attic. Suddenly, cards march in the garden followed by the King and Queen of Hearts. The Queen angrily commands the White Rabbit, her servant, to decapitate two fencing Jacks. A cardplaying Hatter and Hare are sentenced likewise, only to exchange their heads and keep playing. Suddenly, the Queen imposes Alice an invitation to play crocket using flamingos and hedgehogs, which ends without reason. Then, the White Rabbit delivers a trial transcript to a puzzled Alice. She presents into a room where she is being judged for eating the Queen's tarts, which are displayed untouched in the room. Alice tries to explain herself and the Queen continually demands to sentence and decapitate her, but the King commands them to follow the script - noting that Alice admits the "crime". Annoyed, Alice starts eating the tarts and the King and Queen angrily demand the girl's head. A startled Alice asks "But which one?", while shapeshifting her head into other characters.

Then, Alice finds herself waking up in the room from the beginning. She gazes all the household objects that portrayed Wonderland throughout her narration and, finally, to the broken and empty glass box of the Rabbit. And after finding a pair of scissors inside the hidden drawer, she narrates to herself "He's late as usual, I think I'll cut his head off".


  • Kristýna Kohoutová as Alice

In Alice's English version:


Jan Švankmajer, who had been making short films since the mid-1960s, says he got the confidence to make a feature-length film due to finishing the shorts Jabberwocky and Down to the Cellar. He described Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a work which had followed him since he was a child, as "one of the most important and amazing books produced by this civilisation."[2] He argued that other film adaptations of the story had interpreted it as a fairy tale, but that Carroll had written it like a dream, and that was what he wanted to transmit: "While a fairy tale has got an educational aspect – it works with the moral of the lifted forefinger (good overcomes evil), dream, as an expression of our unconscious, uncompromisingly pursues the realisation of our most secret wishes without considering rational and moral inhibitions, because it is driven by the principle of pleasure. My Alice is a realised dream."[2] Despite the film's heavy usage of stop motion, and unlike most other traditional stop motion films, the movie does not utilize any miniature sets to portray its special effects.


The film first premiered in the United States, where it was released on 3 August 1988. It played at the 1989 Annecy International Animated Film Festival where it received the prize for best feature film.[3] In Czechoslovakia it premiered on 1 November 1990.[4] The English dubbed version features the voice of Camilla Power.

Critical response[edit]

In The New York Times, Caryn James wrote that although Švankmajer "strips away all sweetness and light, he does not violate Lewis Carroll's story", and called Alice an "extraordinary film [which] explores the story's dark undercurrents". James described the animation as "remarkably fluid" and held forward the dynamics of the film, which contrasts visually captivating elements with superficiality: "Mr. Švankmajer never lets us forget we are watching a film in which an actress plays Alice telling a story", although, "with its extreme close-ups, its constant motion and its smooth animation, the film is so visually active that it distracts us from a heavy-handed fact - this is a world of symbols come alive."[5] Upon the British home-media release in 2011, Philip Horne reviewed the film for The Daily Telegraph. Horne called it "an astonishing film", and wrote: "This is no cleaned up version approved by preview audiences or committees of studio executives – my youthful fellow-spectator declared quite aptly at one point, 'She's rather a violent young girl, isn't she?' – but its glorious proliferation of magical transformations works like a charm on anyone who values the imagination."[6] The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes has Alice with a "Fresh" rating of 100% based on 18 reviews.

Home media[edit]

The film with original Czech audio and English subtitles was unavailable on home video until 2011 when the British Film Institute released the film on DVD and Blu-ray.[7][8]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ a b Stafford, Mark; Sélavy, Virginie (14 June 2011). "Interview with Jan Švankmajer". Electric Sheep Magazine. Archived from the original on 8 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-08. 
  3. ^ Jefferson, David (1989). "Annecy Animation Festival 1989". Animator Magazine (25): 8. Archived from the original on 8 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-08. 
  4. ^ "Něco z Alenky (1988)". České filmové nebe (in Czech). Retrieved 2011-07-09. 
  5. ^ James, Caryn (1988-08-03). "An 'Alice' for Adults". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-07-09. 
  6. ^ Horne, Philip (23 May 2011). "Alice, DVD review". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 8 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-09. 
  7. ^ B., Michael (26 October 2010). "Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988)". Retrieved 29 November 2010. 
  8. ^ "Buy Alice (Dual Format Edition) - Alice". Retrieved 2016-12-11. 

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