TNB Night Owl–Alice

Maasdam Swiss cheese. Photo by Arz.

I was talking with Alienmotives about what movie to do for tonight’s Night Owl. “There’s one where David Bowie plays a male prostitute opposite Marline Dietrich…”

That one got a shrug

“Or a kid’s movie made by the meat puppets guy.”

He looked up. “Meat puppets.”

Meat Puppets Guy is Jan Svankmajer, a Czech director and animator, famous for using low-tech stop-motion animation. who often uses raw meat in his projects. Svankmajer was already famous and critically recognized for his short films when he decided to move into feature filmmaking. This led to his version of Alice in Wonderland. Unsatisfied with the cutesy, “fairy-tale” versions that came previously, his ALICE (1988) treats the story the way he saw the original book–an amoral dream of a child. What he created was really impressive and perfect for any children who find the WILLY WONKA boat ride scene too upbeat.

The movie opens up with young Alice telling the audience to close their eyes, or else they won’t see anything. That sets the tone perfectly. We Alice sitting by the riverbank with an adult. She is obviously bored and, when she tries to get the attention of the grown-up, she gets slapped. Going inside to play offers little more entertainment. Still bored, Alice falls asleep.

The movie follows a good bit of the original story, but tweaked for his set up. Household objects get worked into the story. A taxidermied rabbit becomes the white rabbit Alice follows down the “rabbit hole” of a desk drawer. Pin cushions become croquet balls which, in turn, become hedgehogs. Socks become caterpillars. When Alice drinks the “drink me” ink, she turns into her doll. While the stop-motion animation is clunky, it’s entirely forgivable because this movie never tries to capture realism.

There is only one human outside the first sequence–Alice. The young girl playing her did a good job considering she had almost nothing to play against. The dialogue was interesting in that it was not played for realism, either. Instead, it was used as a narrator, reading passages from the book: “‘I’m late!’ exclaimed the rabbit.” You never get the chance to forget this is an adaptation, and I doubt you’re supposed to.

The end was clunky, but it’s a small flaw in an otherwise strange movie-watching experience. What it lacks in the typical whimsy, this adaptation gives a strange angle from which to watch the odd little flick. And, yes, there are meat puppets in the film.

Question of the night–what kids’ book would you like to see adapted/remade into a movie?

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