Alice (1988 film)

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Czechoslovak theatrical release poster
Directed byJan Švankmajer
Produced byPeter-Christian Fueter
Screenplay byJan Švankmajer
Based onAlice's Adventures in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll
StarringKristýna Kohoutová
CinematographySvatopluk Malý
Edited byMarie Zemanová
Distributed byFirst Run Features
Release date
  • 3 August 1988 (1988-08-03) (United States)
  • 1 November 1990 (1990-11-01) (Czechoslovakia)
Running time
86 minutes[1]
United Kingdom
West Germany

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.


The film opens on a young girl (Alice) sitting by a brook and a close-up of her mouth, informing the audience that they will now see a film, and instructing them to close their eyes "otherwise you won't see anything!"

The film goes to Alice (Kristýna Kohoutová) in her sitting room. A mysterious creaking noise draws her attention to a taxidermically stuffed White Rabbit in a glass case upon a desk. The Rabbit escapes the box, dresses itself, and steals a pair of scissors from a hidden drawer. Alice chases the Rabbit out of the house and up a hill, upon which is a desk identical to the one from her sitting room. The Rabbit crawls inside the desk drawer, which closes behind him. Alice opens the drawer to find nothing but drafting tools. Alice manages to crawl into the drawer, where she eventually finds herself heading downstairs in an elevator whose windows display strange household objects on shelves as it goes down. When the elevator doors open, Alice is just in time to see the Rabbit go through a tiny door and disappear. She tries to follow, but is too large to fit.

Alice finds a medicine and eats it, transforming into a small china doll identical to herself. Now she is the correct size to fit through the door but finds it locked. She then finds a bottle of ink labeled "Drink Me." Following directions, she grows enormous, filling the small room. Frustrated, the enlarged Alice cries until the room floods with her tears. Numerous small creatures begin swimming around her head, including a mouse in a rowboat. It docks its boat on her head and tries to prepare a cooking fire in her hair. Alice submerges and the mouse swims away. Soon after, she is able to go through the door by shrinking again with another cookie.

Again a china doll, 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 fetch him his scissors from his rabbit-cage-like house. While searching for the scissors, she drinks from another ink bottle and immediately returns to her true size, but finds herself trapped inside the now too-small house, much to the Rabbit and other animals' horror. They try to force her out by launching a skull-head lizard through the window. Alice kicks him away, causing him to burst and spill his sawdust innards. The angry animals finally imprison the girl by submerging her in a pot of milk, trapping her in a white Alice-shaped shell, which they lock inside a storage room filled with specimen jars.

Alice manages to break out of the Alice shell. Inside a sardine can, she discovers a key and escapes the storage room, stepping into a long hall with many doors. In one of them, she meets a sock-like Caterpillar in between a room swarming with sock-like worms. In the hallway once more, she follows the sound of a crying baby, which turned out to be a live piglet inside a dollhouse stormed with breaking plates and pots. In another room, a tea party mechanically proceeding without end, hosted by a taxidermic Hare, a wooden-puppet Hatter and a taxadermic ferret. The Hatter produces the White Rabbit from inside its hat. The rabbit flees upstairs and Alice follows him.

Behind a bedsheet curtain in the attic, Alice discovers a garden of paper flowers clipped from old magazines. A troop of playing cards march into the garden, followed by the King and Queen of Hearts. Two of the Jacks fall out of formation and begin to quarrel. The Queen commands the White Rabbit, her executioner, to decapitate the Jacks; he does so with his scissors. A card-playing Hatter and Hare are also sentenced to death, only to exchange their heads and keep playing.

After Alice plays a game of croquet with the Queen, the White Rabbit delivers a trial summons to a puzzled Alice. She presents herself into a courtroom where she finds herself on trial for eating the Queen's tarts. Alice points out that the tarts are sitting untouched in the courtroom, but the Queen insists that she stop being so quarrelsome so that they may get to the execution. Annoyed, Alice eats the tarts, which causes her head to shapeshift into that of other characters. The frustrated Queen demands that all her heads be cut off, and the Rabbit advances toward her with his scissors.

Abruptly, Alice wakes up in the sitting room where she began to tell the story. All around the room are the various household objects that populated her dream: socks (the Caterpillar) in a sewing basket, china dolls, playing cards scattered on a table. The glass case that formerly contained the taxadermic rabbit is now shattered and empty. Going to a desk identical to the one that began her adventures, she opens its drawer, takes out a pair of scissors, and 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 23 June 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-08.
  3. ^ Jefferson, David (1989). "Annecy Animation Festival 1989". Animator Magazine (25): 8. Archived from the original on 12 September 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-08.
  4. ^ "Něco z Alenky (1988)". České filmové nebe (in Czech). Retrieved 9 July 2011.
  5. ^ James, Caryn (3 August 1988). "An 'Alice' for Adults". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
  6. ^ Horne, Philip (23 May 2011). "Alice, DVD review". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 2 June 2014. 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 11 December 2016.

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