A Town Called Panic

Written by:
Emily S. Mendel
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A Town Called Panic

Written and Directed by: Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar
Run Time: 75 minutes
French with English subtitles

The refreshingly new stop-motion animated film, A Town Called Panic, is the antithesis of the 3-D multimillion-dollar babies developed by James Cameron, Wes Anderson, Pixar and Disney. Where the blockbuster films offer expensive technological wizardry, A Town Called Panic relies upon charm, imagination and general wackiness.

The main characters in A Town Called Panic are a trio of basic generic plastic toys, Cowboy, Indian and Horse. Indian can’t hit a target with his plastic bow and arrow. Cowboy is shy beneath his brave exterior. And Horse is in love. The three share a rambling house in a rural town, which is comprised of rudimentary, yet dreamlike cardboard sets.

Cowboy and Indian decide to give Horse a brick barbeque for his birthday. Instead of the 50 bricks they need, 50 million bricks are delivered by error. This sets off a chaotic chain of events reminiscent of early cartoons, but more absurd. Their farming neighbors, Steven and Jeanine, and Steven’s red plastic tractor, get involved in the mess.

All this commotion prevents Horse from taking music lessons from his sexy horse-teacher, Madame Longray. Ultimately, Cowboy, Indian and Horse travel to the center of the earth and find a parallel underwater world of not very nice pointy-headed creatures.

Belgian directors and animators, Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, have designed a childlike, strangely surrealistic film. The characters and objects are not in scale, so that spoons and breakfast waffles are as large as Horse. This inventive lack of perspective and proportion brings spontaneity and whimsy to the film.

Aubier and Patar have used these plastic characters in short films and in the twenty episodes of their cult 2003 television show on Canal+ (France and Belgium). A Town Called Panic is the first feature length film they have made…and it shows.

What is fantastic and funny in a short film became less so in a 75-minute one. In interviews, the directors stated that they wanted “to tell a fleshed-out story that had more of a sustained structure…”

I don’t think they really achieved their goal. The underground scenes with the pointy-headed men seemed to have been appended to the rest of the film for no other reason than to lengthen it. And after a while, the characters’ screechy voices and the grating, disharmonious music became annoying, rather than comedic.

Aubier and Patar have created a singular, imaginative style of stop-motion animation, which I hope they enhance to support full-length films.

Emily S. Mendel
(c) Emily S. Mendel 2010

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