“How neat,” thought the film critic to himself, “here I am with two screenings to attend and what do you know, both are animated features. Of course they’re still very different in nature, but that’s the beauty of it. Here is an opportunity for a study of opposites.” In the blue corner we have the brand new, state-of-the-art FINDING NEMO coming at us from the almighty Pixar studios, a branch of Disney specialized in breathtakingly gorgeous and detailed computer animation. They have a huge team of animators, a huge budget and huge distribution in all the multiplexes of the world. And in the brownish red corner we have ALICE, an epic stop-motion fantasy from Czech animator Jan Svankmajer that benefited from much much less manpower and money and, alas, isn’t as widely known as it should be even though it was first released 15 years ago.
But as the film critic watches the movies, something curious occurs to him. “It’s not so clear and simple,” thought the film critic to himself, “It’s not the big new bright Hollywood production against the smaller older darker European one. Both flicks are made for children (perhaps) yet artistically-minded, wonderfully imaginative and more intense than you might expect.”
FINDING NEMO opens with a fish mommy and hundreds of her babies being slaughtered, leaving fish daddy Marlin (the voice of Albert Brooks) alone to raise the sole surviving baby, Nemo. Flash forward a few years to Nemo’s first day of school and unsurprisingly, Marlin has trouble letting go. He loves his son so much, he wouldn’t want anything to happen to him and if that means being neurotic and overbearing, them the breaks. But Nemo resents it and he rebels by swimming away from the reef… and straight into the net of a scuba diver. Marlin will spend the rest of the film swimming through the ocean in desperate search of his kidnapped son, finding strength and courage in himself that he never knew were there.
This leads to much adventure, with scares from sharks and jellyfish and all kinds of deep sea creatures, and also silliness as Marlin befriends a lady fish (Ellen DeGeneres) suffering from short-term memory loss (like Leonard in Memento) and a surfer dude turtle. Everyone and everything is amazingly colorful and beautiful but like every Pixar flick (except the inferior “A Bug’s Life”), FINDING NEMO is also surprisingly touching. “Gee, I’m on the verge of tears!” thought the film critic to himself, “This is hardly about fish, this is a big metaphor for how a parent’s natural impulse is to be overprotective but one needs to have trust in their kids and let them live their life.”
ALICE is not quite what you expect either, even if you’ve read the book. It reinvents Lewis Carroll’s story as a little girl (Kristyna Kohoutova)’s quirky daydream that has her discovering all kinds of wonders and horrors in her own house. The White Rabbit has to free himself from the taxidermy case he’s nailed into, the Caterpillar is actually a sock with fake eyes and dentures, the Mad Hatter is a ventriloquist’s puppet who likes to drink tea from a clean cup with a wheelchair-bound hare who butters pocket watches, and the Queen of Hearts is, of course, literally a playing card. All of Wonderland is here made up of various dusty rooms and writing desks with impossibly deep drawers, and Alice has to drink or eat various things to grow or shrink enough to make her way across this much peculiar world.
“Alternately creepy and amusing but endlessly inventive, ALICE is a masterpiece of surrealism that’s more Tim Burton than Walt Disney,” thought the film critic to himself, “And in its own way it’s as much of a technical marvel as FINDING NEMO. There’s no need to belittle one to praise the other, both films will please audiences young and old.”
ALICE plays Cinéma du Parc on June 6, 7, 8, 10 and 11. FINDING NEMO will play everywhere throughout the summer.