Review of Toys in the Attic

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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.
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Movie Review: "Toys in the Attic"

-- Rating: PG (Mild peril, brief smoking)
Length: 74 minutes
Release Date: September 7, 2012
Directed by: Jirí Barta, Vivian Schilling
Genre: Animation/Family/Fantasy

"Toys in the Attic" is a 2009 stop-motion animated film from the Czech Republic that was not released in the United States until 2012. It's a real shame that it took so long for this film to come stateside, because it's full of fun, inventive toy creatures and great performances from several voices that may be familiar to U.S. audiences.

The villain of the movie is the Head (Douglas Urbanski), who, as his name suggests, is a floating head with no arms or legs who must rely on his minions to do all of his evil bidding. Easily the creepiest of these minions is a half-man, half-scorpion hybrid that crawls in and out of the Head's ear. The Head and his motley crew live in the Land of Evil, which is really just a far, dark corner of an attic.

On the other side of the attic is a band of toys long forgotten by their owners, who occasionally visit to leave more soon-to-be-forgotten items behind. Among the discarded toys is a teddy bear named Teddy (Forest Whitaker) who sleeps in an old slipper. Madame Curie (Joan Cusack) is a stuffed mouse who lives in a suitcase with Buttercup (Vivian Schilling), a porcelain doll whose disappearance sets the wheels of the plot in motion.

Teddy and Madam Curie must find a way to traverse across the attic, which seems like a monumental task to these small toys. They enlist the help of a few friends, including Sir Handsome (Cary Elwes), a swashbuckling marionette puppet who could easily be based upon one of Elwes's most famous characters, that of Wesley from "The Princess Bride" (who, incidentally, was also trying to rescue a woman named Buttercup). Also joining them is Laurent (Marcelo Tubert), a brown lump of clay who can't seem to get out of the way fast enough to avoid being stepped on or stretched out by accident.

Together, they begin the journey across the attic to the Land of Evil to try and rescue Buttercup. It is a long journey to the other side, fraught with peril and potential traps. Meanwhile, the Head's minions are always looking out for him, in some cases literally-an eyeball attached to a long antenna keeps watch over the rest of the attic, warning the Head of any impending problems. When the eyeball catches sight of the rescue party, the Head launches a plan of attack, complete with a small cadre of potatoes strutting doll legs.

There are plenty of original things about "Toys in the Attic," not the least of which is the fact that directors Jiri Barta and Vivian Schilling have breathed life into items you might find in your very own attic. Not only is a nondescript glob of clay one of the heroes of the film, but another similar glob filled with nails becomes an ominous obstacle that the heroes must overcome to rescue their friend. The disconnected arm that grabs things for the Head could easily be found in in a box of old toys hidden away in the attic. Teddy even sleeps in a slipper that no doubt belonged to one of the humans who owns the home. Everything seems to have its place, which serves to make the story more compelling.

For years, family films have been dominated by Pixar and DreamWorks-type animation that is generated through the use of computers. This produces a visually stunning look that has quickly become beloved in the movie industry. The rise of these films has seen the demise of stop-motion animation, which takes quite a bit of time and effort to produce. It is a nice change of pace to see "Toys in the Attic" use this antiquated type of animation, and it hearkens back to a time when not technology, but the human hand, was king.

In fact, "Toys in the Attic" almost feels like a love letter to the stop-motion genre. It is as visually stunning and creative as any other animated film you will see in theaters. It may look old-school, but this film proves that there is nothing wrong with occasionally taking a step back and appreciating the value of antiquated methods. The result is an inventive, engaging, and fun film that can be enjoyed by both children and adults alike.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars