Animation &Commentary &Puppet Animation 06 Sep 2012 06:30 am

Toys in the Attic – review

- This is my idea of heaven. This week in politics can only get better tonight. The Democratic convention is full of intelligent, smart speakers who are performing at their height. I spend my days waiting for the nights. Those speeches are just too delicious. How can my politics NOT slip over into this Splog!



- The animated feature, Toys in the Attic, opens in theaters tomorrow, Sept. 7th.
I’ve received a number of emails from the producers of this animated feature. It was done in the czech Republic and has been adapted for English Speaking audiences. The voices inlude Joan Cusack, Cary Elwes and Forest Whitaker in the English language version. The film was directed by Jiří Bárta, who has done a number of other films which, like Toys in the Attic, are mixed media: 3D stop-motion mixes with 2D animation which mixes with pixillation and live action. It’s an attractive and exciting film which depends less on technology than on knowledge of the medium from filmmaking to animation.__________________Director, Jiří Bárta

The stop-motion puppets are not of the Laica variety. There is no heavy financing behind them that they can create millions of facial movements that are replaceable so that any emotion can animate into another one. The animation is not quite as slick and, consequently, looks more hands-on.It’s very effectve, just the same. I think of Ray Harryhausen’s work which strobes and is awfully clunky in many parts, but it’s still grabbing in its emotional simplicity.

Weird bugs

The sets and costumes, the puppets and the mixed-in 2D animation all sing hand-made and very human. There’s an enormous attractiveness to this, and it’s all so creatively done. A character wals in front of a mirror; his reflection is a 2D version of himself. Trains pull in and out of stations and travel all across the attic. The smoke out of the train, the billowing steam from the engine. It’s all a linear 2D animation. Water floodsan area. The water is done using sheets of blue fabric moving forever forward animated as water even though it’s obviously made of cloth. Oh yes, 2D animated drops of water bounce around the cloth water. (It reminded me of Fellini’s Casanova (1976) when he went to the sea. The sea was made of large sheets of billowing black baggies. It’s obvious that it isn’t water, but somehow you bought the theatricality of it. Here, I bought the cloth running water, but I wonder if children will not be puzzled, or will their minds go with the flow of the director? I’d really like to know.)

The story is a simple one:Buttercup , a little doll with a penchant for housekeeping, is kidnapped. Lots of mechanical insects do the job for a living breathing statue/bust the color of a dark patina (a greenish-gray which includes his live action teeth). The bust seems to move in live-action (though it also appears to be animated in some odd way); maybe just part of it is live action, the rest pixillated. Buttercup’s friends, led by a wooden Don Quixote marionette (without strings), a teddy bear, and a mouse doll set out to save her.

The film is like a Svankmajer film for children. It’s more Eastern-European than the Quay Brothers and almost as surreal. Oddly, you sit there with your eyes glued to the screen as oddity after oddity moves forward. Desie the celebrity voices, I didn’t recognize one of them. They all wheeze and grunt and have accents. All their lines are partial sentences and short bursts. It’s quite original. I have to say that I never got emotionally invested in any of the characters. Sweet Buttercup is an old-time children’s doll who keeps house for others.

When she’s kidnapped, she’s thrown in a cell where she continues to sweep. Every once in a while, the captors pour ashes in on her from overhead. She’s covered with ashes and left in the pitch-black dark. Yet she continues to sweep. What else is there for her to do?

I probably felt more sympathy for the wooden Don Quixote. There seems to be a vulnerability in the old puppet event though the animation of the character isn’t overtly invested with any real character traits that I’d look for as an animator. It moves well but not with any

This film is certainly like nothing that would ever be made in Hollywood. William Joyce wants to do this but is too clean, airbrushed and slick; totally lacking in textured personality. The distributor calls Jiří Bárta a Czech Tim Burton, but I can’t agree. Burton works in a style that pops out in your mind – you’d recognize the style that everyone tries to steal. Bárta’s style is much more surreal; it’s a play on reality not a stylization of it.

This is one curious movie that I enjoyed, but I’m not sure it’s for everyone’s taste. I wasn’t kidding when I dropped the Svankmajer name. There’s no doubt that Bárta has seen his work.

If you’ve seen the film please let me know what you thought.
I’d be curious to read your review.

6 Responses to “Toys in the Attic – review”

  1. on 11 Sep 2012 at 2:12 am 1.Niffiwan said …

    Hi, are my comments getting through? I seem to be getting to a blank page when I click on “submit”, so I’m not sure…

  2. on 11 Sep 2012 at 2:14 am 2.Niffiwan said …

    Ok, it seems that long comments aren’t getting through, so I’m going to split it up into several posts:

    This film is absolutely charming and fantastic, it was my favourite animated film of 2010. I’ve shown it to a number of other people since then and everyone has loved it.

    It comes from the very best Czech traditions, and it shows that there are still filmmaking traditions other than Hollywood where they know how to pay proper attention to every part of a film (story, sound, animation, acting…) and create something that is fully professional, but in a different artistic sensibility. Unfortunately, this is in my opinion no longer the case in Russia (at least for animated features).

  3. on 11 Sep 2012 at 2:15 am 3.Niffiwan said …

    You did not mention, Mr. Sporn, that this film was an incredible comeback for Barta, a director who hadn’t been able to make a film since the collapse of the USSR (like many others, he was unable to adapt to the changed circumstances – except that he finally managed to do it after two decades!). In 1985, he made another very impressive (and very different) animated feature, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”: a dark fable animated from wood in a German expressionist style.

    How is the English dubbing, is it any good? After seeing the awful way that some of the Russian cartoons were dubbed by famous Western actors under Films by Jove (who seemed to treat think they were voicing Looney Tunes characters and had to be wacky with every line), I’m very skeptical of the process in general.

  4. on 11 Sep 2012 at 8:28 am 4.Michael said …

    Niffiwan, thank you for your comments. I was not aware that longer posts aren’t getting through. If any others have had that problem, please let me know.

    You’re right I didn’t go into depth about Jiří Bárta‘s early career. I knew a little about it. I had read about The Pied Piper animated from wood but couldn’t even find a still from it, so really have no idea of what it looks like nor had I found a review of it. I did talk a bit more about him in another post, particularly of The Golem, a feature for which he could not find funding.

    I can’t write about dubbing, because I haven’t seen any of his films in their original language. The dubbing in this film is a bit eccentric, though it seemed appropriate to the film.

    I’m pleased that he did find a wider release with this film. Perhaps if it has any success, other films he’s done will find their way West.

  5. on 12 Sep 2012 at 6:32 am 5.Niffiwan said …

    “The Pied Piper” (also known as Krysar aka. The Ratcatcher) is one of those films that I truly believe is a must-see for any animation connoisseur. Until not too long ago there was an apparently legal upload of the entire film to Youtube, but it has recently been taken down (I guess to capitulize on possibility that the US release of this new film might bring increased sales of the DVD “Labyrinth of Darkness”, which features a compilation of Barta’s earlier films).

    There is a short clip from it which still survives on Youtube:

  6. on 12 Sep 2012 at 8:12 am 6.Michael said …

    Niffiwan, thank you for the location of the YouTube clip. The film looks very interesting, and I will be on the look for the whole film. The last shot is one I usually don’t like, but Barta pulls it off powerfully. Obviously, he is a strong director with a powerful style. The sound track seems, in many ways, similar to that in Toys in the Attic. Obviously, his tracks are part of that style.

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