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Jan Svankmajer is hardly a household name, yet he is one of the most influential animators ever. He’s not Walt Disney, maybe, but you can see his stamp in the work of Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam and even, through squinted eyes, Nick (Wallace and Gromit) Park. His live-action/stop-frame adaptation of Alice in Wonderland is a prime example of what he does – a darkly surreal, loud, clanking, gothic distillation of Poe, De Sade, Kafka (a fellow Czech). It’s also about the best film adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s much abused work. Uncle Walt chose to play cute with the story, but Svankmajer goes the other way – a white rabbit that bleeds sawdust, for instance, and an Alice menaced by a distinctly phallic caterpillar, all very Freudian. Lovers of the grotesque and habitués of thrift shops will appreciate Svankmajer’s obsession with the engorged, the dilapidated, the antique, the forlorn. Watching one of his films is like having a cheese-fuelled dream in the laboratory of a Victorian gentleman scientist, during which butterflies in glass cases and deformed babies in bottles of formaldehyde come gruesomely back to life. No, this is not the Disney Alice. As Svankmajer’s narrator announces, with an almost Borat-like level of faux naivety at the film’s beginning “Now you will see a film for children. Perhaps.”

Alice – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2007

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