Many children, including myself when I was a child, have shared the same innocent fantasy. Behind closed doors and in the dark, we all wished that our dear and most treasured toys would come to life. A stop-motion animation film that brings this childhood fantasy to life – Toys in the Attic tells a story of old, forgotten toys living in a dusty attic of an old house in Prague.
The story follows a small group of toys that have made an old, battered suitcase their home. An antique doll named Buttercup, Teddy the teddy bear, Sir Handsome the wooden marionette and Laurent, an odd glob of clay make up the little group. The happy household goes about their daily routines until an Evil Head living in a remote part of the house decides to cause some chaos and kidnaps Buttercup. Buttercup’s friends, together with a mechanical mouse named Madame Currie and the other peace-loving toys, plan a rescue mission including an attack on the Evil Head and his cronies.
Although the plot of Toys in the Attic is similar to Disney-Pixar’s Toy Story, Czech animator Jiri Barta has created something far more sinister and haunting. Inspired by the Cold War in the Czech Republic, the dark magical world of the attic is divided into two: the land of the happy, peace-loving toys in the East, and the Land of the Evil toys in the West. A cigar-smoking, green-skinned Evil Head represents the dictatorial Head of State in the movie, with his equally creepy minions – rotten vegetables, hair-raising insects, a mischievous black cat and a very unnerving tiny cockroach-looking insect who serves as the Evil Head’s adviser.
Visually, the images Barta has created are fascinating. He has breathed life to antique toys that are mostly junk, through stop-motion and combining multiple other forms of animation including the use of digital effects and cell animation. Barta’s dark world can easily be compared to the likes of Tim Burton’s animated creations, but Barta shows more innovation through a more vividly imaginative world. Floating fluffy “cloud” pillows, damp “river” duvets and a flowing “sea” of black plastic were added to the visual feast. Constructing a whole new universe with random objects and rubbish, it’s no surprise that Barta’s animated feature has won many awards and has been called “An Animation Masterpiece”.
Story-wise, the movie did have a slow start. Since this animation feature was obviously more focused on the visuals, the flow of the story was a bit compromised and did contain some tedious parts. The movie eventually picks up and will intrigue you as it takes you deeper into Barta’s strange but interesting story line.
Borrowed voices, familiar or not, also play a part in constructing the movie’s magic. Forrest Whitaker as Teddy, Cary Elwes as Sir Handsome, Joan Cusack as Madame Currie, Marcelo Tubert as Laurent, Vivian Schilling as Buttercup and Douglas Urbanski as the Evil Head did a good job lending their voices and giving life to these colourful characters.
This movie is a remarkable animated film to watch but don’t expect a family-fun kind of movie. The creatures in the West will easily induce nightmares in younger audience members and there is some sexual innuendo between the Evil Head and Buttercup. In one scene, the Evil Head watches Buttercup in a creepy manner through his strange surveillance system, a snake-like tube with an eyeball. As aforementioned, he also kidnaps the beautiful blonde doll to fulfill his desires; Buttercup becomes his slave, forced to do as he bids. Ultimately, it is a visual treat for the grown-ups who enjoy these kinds of movies. In this era of CGI, it’s quite refreshing to be brought back to the old-fashioned style of animation.