In The Attic (Jiri Barta, 2009): Czech Republic | Slovakia | Japan

Reviewed by Jackson Bishop.  Viewed at the AFI Film Fest in Hollywood.

Jiri Barta’s stop motion animation film, In the Attic,  is a little like Toy Story, if Toy Story had been made in the 1980’s by people who used a lot ofontrolled substances in the 1960’s, and this is a very good thing.  In the Attic immense amounts of heart put into it, and as much, if not more, cleverness and skill, which makes the film an absolute joy to watch.  Some things are a little off, and some characters are just plain annoying, but overall the film is really strong.

In the Attic tells the story of a group of neglected toys that live together in a suitcase in a large attic populated by other toys that come to life when their human owners are not around.  After their friend is kidnapped by the dark toys that inhabit the far end of the attic. The three remaining toys must then go on a harrowing  journey to save their friend.

The first point, and you will see this cited by anyone who writes about this film, is the sheer creativity that has gone into it.  There are techniques this film that I’ve never seen in a stop motion film, the most impressive of which were the blue blankets that were expertly used as rushing water.  There is also the use of improvised vehicles within the film’s toy world.

The cinematography in the film by Zdenek Pospisil is also extraordinary, especial considering Barta’s assertion that no computer work was used in the film.  The cinematography is at its finest in one of the film’s opening shots, in which the camera cranes into the home of the protagonists as they prepare for their day.  It would be a fairly ambitious shot in live action, but here it’s simply stunning.

However, the film does suffer from a lethal case of annoying character syndrome, in this case it is Shuberte, a living ball of clay upon whom most of the film’s comedic relief relies.  His charater design is actually quite brilliant, with all his features made up by things that have apparently gotten stuck in the clay over time.  This, however, does not save Shuberte from becoming the Jar Jar Binks of In the Attic.  The other characters in the film are pretty one-note, but none grate on the nerves like that little ball of clay.

The animation itself in the film is very good, comparable to The Fantastic Mr. Fox, although it’s clear that the filmmakers behind Attic were not intending their animation to be clever or nostalgic, but were simply doing the best they could with what they had.  Overall, the film is very enjoyable and I would recommend anyone who enjoys stop motion to see it, even if only to marvel at its ingenuity.

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