Having watched a stuffed white rabbit break free from its mounting and disappear through a drawer in her desk, Alice follows and embarks on a series of bizarre adventures in a wondrous, but occasionally perilous land.
Anyone familiar with Sir John Tenniel's original illustrations for Lewis Carroll's books about Alice's adventures in Wonderland and through the Looking Glass will have noted a sinister element to them that chimes in with the text's disconcerting surrealism. This dark tone should have rendered this beloved fable the perfect vehicle for master Czech animator Jan Svankmajer to make his feature debut. However, rather than proving an inspiration, Carroll's eccentric chronicle seems to inhibit Svankmajer's imagination and, on several occasional, it even exposes his limitations as a storyteller.
As ever, the texture and colours of Eva Svankmajerova's art direction are impeccable and her husband admirably resists the temptation to follow film precedent and resort to casting heavily disguised guest stars as the Queen of Hearts's subjects. Moreover, as one would expect of the artist who had already re-imagined the Jabberwocky in 1971, Svankmajer does come up with some eye-catching Carrollian moments. But they tend to come when he allows his imagination to soar and he introduces creatures of his own devising, such as the menacing flying bed, the skeletal hybrids (which anticipate vicious Sid's experiments in Toy Story) and the partially feathered chicks. That said, the Frog Footman who can't resist shooting out his tongue to catch flies, the Doormouse who sets up camp in Alice's hair and the taxidermied White Rabbit who has to keep gobbling sawdust to replace that oozing from his torn stomach are all memorably grotesque. The attempt at some underwater sequences (which is notoriously difficult in stop-motion animation) is also laudable. But Svankmajer entrusted much of the puppetry to his assistant, Bedrich Glaser, who isn't always as meticulous as his mentor. Consequently, he seems content to settle for ingenious unreality rather than irresistible illusion and, so, while this is an intriguing adaptation it's never as compelling as it promises to be.
The premise and ambition behind this adaptation are intriguing but the realisation falls short.