Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Review - A Town Called Panic (Panique au village)


Vincent Patar and St├ęphane Aubier's animation A Town Called Panic began life as a series of 5-minute shorts, and after viewing this feature-length adventure, some people will feel that's where it should have stayed. Personally, I laughed loudly and frequently during the 75 minutes I spent watching bizarre events occurring on screen at a rate of 100 miles per hour, but if surreal, squeaky-voiced Belgian insanity isn't your cup of tea, I can imagine A Town Called Panic losing its appeal very early on. Either way, there's nothing else out there quite like it.

There is a plot holding A Town Called Panic together, although it is essentially a thin thread on which the filmmakers can hang various daft set-pieces. The film takes place in a small village inhabited by a number of plastic toys. Living together in one house are a cowboy named Cowboy, an Indian named Indian and a Horse named Horse (or Cheval, to be precise). Our story takes place on Horse's birthday, which throws his housemates into a panic when they realise they've forgotten to buy him a present, so they have the bright idea of buying some bricks and building him a barbecue. After bungling their internet order, Cowboy and Indian find themselves lumbered with 50 million bricks, they end up destroying the house ("I told you we should have bought him a hat!" Cowboy screams), and they are subsequently forced to embark upon an adventure that will take them to the North Pole, the centre of the earth, the depths of the ocean and, eventually, home again.

A Town Called Panic is structured as if it's the product of a hyperactive child playing with his toys. As soon as the filmmakers have had enough of one particular scenario, they quickly whisk their characters off somewhere else, and the entire film is pitched at the same manic intensity, with the characters shouting their dialogue in a variety of silly French accents. The film is animated in a crude fashion, with the plastic figures wobbling about jerkily in a defiantly old-fashioned manner, and the filmmakers show little interest in creating a consistent world around them. At irregular intervals, an object will appear that that completely throws off the film's sense of scale, like the enormous waffle and coffee mug next door neighbour Steven devours for breakfast, or the huge prison that can magically appear from the inside of a tiny police box when required.

This is the kind of film in which you can watch a giant robot penguin hurling snowballs, followed by a scene involving a horse disguised as Santa Clause stealing a house from some frogmen, and see these two sequences as part of a natural narrative progression. Such wilful randomness is liable to drive many audience members crazy, but the hectic and episodic nature of A Town Called Panic ensured I was never bored and I was constantly curious to see what madness the filmmakers would cook up next, with every shrill-voiced cry of "Oh no!" confirming that some fresh disaster had befallen the endearingly hapless characters.