Toys in the Attic (2009)

This peculiar Czech animated film has positive as well as negative aspects, making it difficult to recommend it to a general audience.

 

On the plus-side you have beautiful and inventive animation, coupled with a highly imaginative interplay between the animation and story, as well as the fantasy realm and its mundane surroundings.

On the down-side, you have a (very small) number of questionable decisions in the art design, and a completely misguided use of the English-language voice cast.

 

Possibly the greatest problem is the tone. Toys in the Attic is a fairytale which might easily bore older children. But it is far too scary for smaller children. That narrows down the suitable audience considerably – in general, I would advice that children should not watch this film before bed-time, but preferably much earlier in the day.

 

 

As I said, the animation is quite marvellous. For a lot of the time, the story takes place in a “real live” environment (an attic), and the characters and props are old toys and dolls, etc. (old and shabby enough so that you could easily believe they have been forgotten in the attic for decades). These characters and props are then used in an (I presume) stop-motion technique. Their actions and interactions are modelled on the way children would use these toys and on the stories children would invent (before the film’s dark turn of events, that is). As children sometimes break toys, some of these toys look damaged; as toys sometimes undergo make-shift repairs, some of these toys look “mended”. And as children sometimes overcome the limitations of their toy collection by creating new toys from bits and pieces, or by drawing houses and backgrounds for their dolls and trains, the filmmakers use the same kind of initiative.

What fascinates me is that all this creates a very consistent and unique style and look, while at the same time being extremely effective as it saves both time and money.

 

 

Unfortunately, the English voices for the DVD all but ruin the film. This is not the fault of the cast (which includes Forest Whitaker), but the fault of the people in charge of the voice-over process. By deciding to give all the characters cringeworthy and unnatural “foreign” accents, they created a constant source of irritation and distraction. More importantly, a lot of the dialogue is very difficult to understand thanks to this misguided approach. And my DVD (as all DVDs and BluRays, as far as I can tell) has no subtitles. I watched some passages over and over again and still could not understand a word of what was being said. It seems to me that the “streaming” on amazon prime (US) promises English subtitles, but I am not sure if I understand that information correctly, or if it is absolutely reliable.

 

 

As I pointed out above, the story is so scary that will be difficult to find the right age range for children to watch this. And for casual adult audiences the voice/accent issue it probably too annoying.

But at a mere 70 minutes of story-telling, I believe that this is a true gem for people who are interested in animation in general, and in stop-motion animation in particular. I think it will also be inspiring for film students, as some of the methods used in this film seem a good way to save both time and money.

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