In an attic full of discarded junk, a pretty doll called Buttercup lives in an old trunk together with her friends, the marionette Sir Handsome, the lovable Teddy Bear, a Mechanical Mouse and the plasticine creature, Laurent. When Buttercup is snatched and taken off to the Land of Evil, her pals set out on a wondrous and daring adventure to rescue her from the all-powerful Head of State.
Toys in Attic
The Czech Republic has a long, distinguished history with stop-motion animation going back to the ’60s and before. Today, artists like Jiří Barta are continuing the tradition, choosing to keep working with physical toys, clay, and other objects, rather than succumbing to the siren call of technological developments in computer animation and 3D. And I really hope stop-motion animation remains alive and vital; there’s a purity and a beauty to it – a love of the art that comes through every frame – that you don’t always get with more modern techniques. Barta isn’t afraid to mix his methods, and In the Attic also has a bit of hand drawn animation, live action, and yes, even CGI. But it’s the incredibly inventive stop-motion that you’ll remember.
Our four main characters live in a suitcase-house – a doll, a stuffed bear, a knight, and a personified glob of clay. Right away it’s obvious that this film is going to take ordinary children’s playthings and other cast-off items in the attic to create its story, and that’s exactly what it does, with a great deal of imagination. In this world, a bottlecap becomes a hat for the clay Schubert, a pencil becomes a sword for Sir Handsome, a train is made from ticket stubs and has toothbrushes for brakes, the ocean is plastic garbage bag material, the mountains are a series of large pieces of furniture, pillows are clouds, and a plastic alligator bath toy is a dangerous monster.
After the three boys leave for work, the Head of the Land of Evil sends his scouts to kidnap the doll Buttercup. Interestingly, at this point, Barta invokes live-action, having a little girl and her grandmother come up to the attic briefly to get something – and it’s the girl who opens the suitcase and moves Buttercup to a different part of the attic before returning to the lower levels of the house. This is a brilliant move because it underscores what Barta is doing – this film is a child’s game. It’s an intricate version of what children do, taking everything in their environment and transforming it imaginatively (and physically, as much as they are able), into something else. At one point, a train is going to go the wrong direction on the tracks – no problem, just redraw the tracks (chalk on the floor) in a different direction. Pulling back into live action shows how all of the adventure we’re about to see all takes place among old toys and cast-off trash in a single attic, and how wonderful those things can be with a little imagination.
Once Buttercup’s disappearance is discovered, Schubert, Sir Handsome, and Teddy rally the rest of the attic-dwellers to rescue her. Meanwhile, the Head sends his own troops to capture her first and succeeds, forcing our heroes to enter the very Land of Evil to save her. There are a lot of underlying political themes here, as the Land of Evil is fascist dictatorship, controlling the press and using a rhetoric of fear and unity against outsiders to develop hatred for the rescue squad. But the film never diverges too far into political statements; they’re simply there for the adults to appreciate while the action continues apace.
Though the story is simple, the animation is not – it is incredibly intricate and so imaginative that my jaw was dropping open in glee every few seconds as something else incredible showed up on screen. Whether it was the use of everyday items in innovative ways or the fact that the characters dream in stick-figure animation or the horrifying quality of the malformed inhabitants of the Land of Evil (very similar in concept to the deformed toys Toy Story), I was enthralled by pretty much every frame.