Toys in the Attic is a stop-motion/mixed animation film from Hannover House, which arrives in theaters today (Sept. 7). Created by Czech animation director Jiří Barta, and written by Edgar Dutka, the movie was adapted into English by Vivian Schilling, and includes the voices of Forest Whitaker (Teddy), Joan Cusack (Madame Curie) and Carey Elwes (Sir Handsome), as well as Schilling herself (Buttercup). (Let’s pause a moment to appreciate the fact that Elwes is in another film with someone named Buttercup.)
The movie scored the Grand Prize at the New York International Children’s Film Festival as well as Best Movie at the Anima Basauri Festival and Sitges Animation Festival.
The story, which is inspired by the Cold War’s impact on the Czech Republic, begins with a group of old toys living out their quiet, happy lives in the West side of an attic. There is Teddy, a fastidious bear who likes to take naps, Laurent (Marcelo Tubert) a frantic, putty creature with a pencil nose, Sir Handsome, a rhyming, wooden marionette knight, and Buttercup, the housewifey doll that takes care of them.
But an eyeball inside an incredibly long vacuum hose has been keeping tabs on them all, reporting back to The Head (Douglas Urbanski), a military bust atop a dresser in the ‘land of evil’ on the East side of the attic. With the help of a black cat, who is sometimes real and sometimes a puppet, The Head kidnaps Buttercup for his very own. The Head’s minions are enjoyably creepy: there’s a bespectacled earwig named Doctor who crawls into his ear and whispers suggestions, action figures with big guns and some things that seriously look like little turds with Barbie legs.
So it’s up to Teddy, Sir Handsome and Laurent to rescue Buttercup, with the help of the fabulous Madame Curie – an engineer mouse with twisted-wire glasses and crazy energy.
The animation is totally delightful. Buttercup mixes paint and plastic food; fires are quivering slices of cellophane; window views and dreams are hand-drawn animation. There are also imaginative and unexpected twists in the story, such as a storm that includes pillow-clouds and a flash flood of blankets instead of water. It definitely reminded me of Michel Gondry at times, but darker.
Barta has won many awards for his animated films, such as The Pied Piper and The Extinct World of Gloves. (The title of the latter really makes me want to check that one out…) He is a professor at the Artistic-Industrial University in Prague, and has made a career in designing advertising and logos, and collaborating in theater and film. The writer of over forty animated films and several books, Edgar Dutka teaches screenwriting and the history of animation at FAMU in Prague.
Image courtesy of LBi