director Jiří Barta
Toys in the Attic never even played on the big screen in San Francisco during its brief release last year. We had to wait for this Czech stop-motion animated feature to hit DVD before we had a chance to see it. And it was perhaps only thanks to my rather intensive scouring of coming films to even know that it had been released in the States at all.
Set in an attic, a myriad discarded toys live in a vivid and strange eclectic world. A girl doll, a marionette, a teddy bear, a lump of clay with a bottle cap hat and stub of a pencil nose comprise the main group of protagonists. But their strange fantasy world is invaded by a long snake-like tube with an eye, spying for a creepy bust of a man, who is informed by a pincher bug with a face. It’s all pretty weird if all you see in animation comes from Disney or Pixar, but for Czech animation, it’s a comparatively less bizarre array of figures.
Stop-motion animation still stands out in my mind as perhaps the most uncanny of all animation techniques. Using real figures, objects, sometimes actual people, it also employs real lighting, basically utilizing a camera shot by shot, gaining all the inherent “realism” of a photograph and natural three dimensionality. The uncanny comes from the invented movement. Some stop-motion tries for as much believability as possible, particularly when stop-motion has been used for “special effects” (something almost unheard of nowadays but still employed up through the 1980’s). But even the best stop-motion effect are still quite obviously unreal, fantastical, and not utterly natural in their movements. It’s an odd, sort of jarring thing, which some people probably really hate but I have always loved. I’ve always loved that weird effect of stop-motion. Maybe because of its uncanniness and weirdness.
Director Jiří Barta employs stop-motion, more traditional animation, and pixilation for the film Toys in the Attic, but the characters, design, world, everything is an inherently surreal thing, and the uncanny aspects of stop-motion, like in other Czech animation, taps into that vein and mines it deep for its style, tonality, and ideas. For the uninitiated, it’s probably plenty weird. For others, it’s plenty cool.