Toys in the Attic is creepily wonderful

September 20, 2012

Toys in the Attic
Grade: 87
Cast: Voices of Vivian Schilling, Forest Whitaker, Joan Cusack, Cary Elwes
Director: Jiri Barta, Vivian Schilling
Rating: Not rated, nothing objectionable
Running time: 76 minutes

It’s not often that I will stoop to quoting a studio-supplied synopsis of a movie, but it seems appropriate to share the distributor’s official description of Toys in the Attic:

“Set behind the doors of a dusty attic, the adorable doll Buttercup plays mom to a motley family of castaways: the station master Teddy Bear, clay-animated Schubert, and the quixotic marionette knight Sir Handsome. In this enchanted world every day is a birthday, until a mysterious black cat kidnaps the beloved Buttercup and takes her to the Land of Evil ruled by the villainous Head of State, who commands an army of mechanical, mustachioed insects and an all seeing spying eye. Both a wonderfully spooky children’s fairy tale and Soviet-era allegory, Toys in the Attic marks a career highpoint for [director Jira] Barta, who was among the first to raise stop-motion animation to an art form and paved the way for modern hits like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline, and Fantastic Mr. Fox.”

OK, now you should understand that Czech filmmaker Jira Barta (whose best known work in this country is 1986’s The Pied Piper) last made a movie in 1989, spending much of the past 20 years trying unsuccessfully to raise funds for a feature called Golem. This film was released in Europe in 2009, and a subtitled version (then titled In the Attic: Or Who Has a Birthday Today) won the Grand Prize at the New York International Children’s Film Festival in 2010.

This version has been adapted by Fayetteville-based writer and actor Vivian Schilling, who also voices Buttercup.
And while you might expect all this translation and re-purposing might have diluted the project, the truth is Toys in the Attic is strange and wonderful in a creepy way that might upset its youngest clients. It plays a bit like Toy Story meets Brazil, a hand-crafted children’s story with the air of sinister political satire.

It’s not what anyone expects; it feels like a lost classic with some of the best stop-motion work this side of Aardman Animations.

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