Opening theatrically on Friday, September 7, in selected cities across the U.S., Jiří Barta's stop-motion animated film Toys in the Attic is a handmade delight.
Barta, who hails from the Czech Republic, is a shy, unassuming man with a vivid imagination. He visited Fantastic Fest with his film in 2010 -- see photos below of him with Karrie League during the Q&A after the screening, along with a close-up of one of the toys -- and now his incredible work can be seen by a wider audience in North America.
To be sure, Toys in the Attic will not remind anyone of the Pixar films, beyond the ancient, shared premise of toys coming to life. It is not a thrill ride or a sentimental comedy, but, rather, a gentle children's fable in the Old World sense of the term. Here's the brief official synopsis:
When the lovely Buttercup is kidnapped by the Head of State, it is up to her friends, a teddy bear, a mechanical mouse and a marionette puppet to attempt a daring rescue across the attic.
As I noted, the film's tone may not appeal to all. When it screened at the Festival du noveau cinema in 2009, Simon Lapierre made the following observations for Twitch:
Yes, the stop-motion animation is gorgeous and there is some elements that are inventive in terms of changing the meaning of an object by giving it a new use (garbage bags, for exemple, become a dangerous black sea and pillows are beautiful clouds). On a purely technical level, the movie is perfect and shows a lot of care and talent with its attention to details.
The problem with In the Attic is the complete lack of edge. It doesn't carry the self-reflectory humour of Toy Story or a dark tone that could have pleased to an adult audience. The childish innocence of the film and its voluntary lack of subtext are strangely surprising because you quickly come to the [conclusion] the film has nothing to tell besides a cute, maybe timeless, story.
Here's the main problem with In the Attic: it is an empty film. It might be what a young audience is looking for, but an older cinephile can only wonder why he's watching something that has nothing to give him.
Now, the same issues that posed problems for Simon struck me as the strengths of the film. It's not targeted at adults. It is paced slowly and with care, but it never talks down to children, nor does it fill them with empty praise. Toys in the Attic respects the wonder of childhood, and treats toys as what they are: childish things whose charms will fade with the passage of years, yet still marvelous, sometimes magical, and always capable of provoking fond memories.
The English-language version features the voices of Forest Whitaker, Joan Cusack, Cary Elwes, and Vivian Schilling, who wrote, produced, and directed the English-language adaptation.
The film opens in theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Memphis, Northwest Arkansas, and Washington, DC, before rolling out to other cities in the coming weeks. Check the official site for more information.
(Photo credits: Peter Martin, copyright 2010.)