On 'Toys in the Attic' by Jiří Barta.
Happy Thursday! In this issue of the Animation Obsessive newsletter, we’re talking about the stop-motion feature Toys in the Attic (2009) by Czech director Jiří Barta.
In the 20th century, Czech animation thrived due to state support for the arts under communism. Artists like Jiří Trnka and Hermína Týrlová used puppets (and odds and ends) to craft films that sat at the peak of stop motion. Jiří Barta arrived in the second or third wave of this movement, but his Pied Piper (1986) is up there with its best.
Barta and others built their careers on non-commercial films. Then things changed — they found themselves working for the market after communism fell. One journalist told Barta that it seemed harder than the old censorship regime. This was his answer:
I probably shouldn’t say this, but that’s how it really is, because political censorship can always be circumvented. There was persecution back then, but the animated language often isn’t spoken very clearly; it’s more about metaphors and symbols. And besides, everyone took the animated film as something merely for children, where it doesn’t matter so much. Financial censorship didn’t exist in those days — we didn’t care who the film was for, where it would be screened or whether 10 people or 50,000 would come to see it, which are precisely the questions that matter most now. Today, the main concern is that it’s done quickly and cheaply.1
When Toys in the Attic debuted in early 2009, almost two decades had passed since the Velvet Revolution.2 The film itself struggled into existence over many years. Still, Barta hadn’t lost his magic touch. This is a childlike tale about toys and castaway things, meant to “evoke a sense of [the] creative imagination … that we all surely knew as children.”3 It’s a joy to watch.
Today, we’re discovering how it came about. Here we go!