Title: Toys in The Attic
Directors: Jirí Barta, Vivian Schilling
Stars: Forest Whitaker, Joan Cusack and Cary Elwes
Toys in the Attic is what a European version of Pixar’s Toy Story 3 would be like. Less light-hearted fun, more focus on claymation, and imagery’s much more Tim Burton than John Lassetter. Director Jirí Barta’s vision of forgotten toys living out their plastic lives in the attic satisfies, even though it’s a tough film to recommend to children looking their next Toy Story fix.
Barta treats his film like a classic hero’s journey, with porcelain doll Buttercup (voiced by Vivian Schilling) taking on the role of the princess in need of a rescue from the villainous The Head (Douglas Urbanski). Off to rescue Buttercup are the noble hero Teddy (Forest Whitaker) and the loudmouth braggot Sir Handsome (Cary Elwes).
Barta does spend a majority of his first act setting up this universe, which can make the film slow down to a crawl. At the same time, it’s nice to see claymation being used creatively and create a universe that truly speaks to the inner child inside us all. Indeed, once the adventure begins, so does the emotional investment, which makes all the beautiful animation much more glorious to swallow.
Producer-director Vivian Schilling rewrote the film for American audiences, while staying true to Barta’s original intent (allegedly, Buttercup was originally a child and that was deemed too inappropriate in relation to some of the character’s motives.) For the most part it all works well. Some aspects do get annoying though. For instance, Sir Handsome rhymes every thing he says, and it’s through no fault of Elwes that most of his lines get tedious.
Elwes does give a fine performance, almost as if he’s comfortable playing the opposite of his turn in The Princess Bride. Whitaker also gives a fine performance as Teddy, hitting all the noble and comedic aspects of the character. Schilling herself does an admirable job as Buttercup, even if she can tend to play it more motherly than as a princess. Douglas Urbanski is just the right amount of creepy to portray The Head, making for a rather memorable villain.
But the animation and production design are the real stars of this film. Barta’s imagination is present through a majority of this picture, such as pillows representing clouds and blue sheets that represent a flood. The focus on older, cheap toys helps fit in with the film’s grimy look. While it’s tough to say this is a landmark in claymation, this is definitely one of the most creative films to be released in quite some time.
Which makes it all the more difficult to recommend this to children. While that’s definitely the aim, it seems as though this will appeal more to adults like myself grew up with this kind of imagination. The methodical pace the film moves at may be a bit much for kids to take in and appreciate. The film certainly plays like a children’s film with adult elements, but it feels like the intent was more for adults with a bit of nostalgia.
In any case, Toys in the Attic may not have the glitz of some of Pixar’s franchise, but it does present an animator not relying on CGI to tell his tale but the toys themselves. Barta’s journey may take it’s time to get going, but when it does, you can’t help but hope the heroes save the day, and almost wish you could spend more time in this world.
Technical – A-
Story – B+
Acting – B
Overall – B+