A TOWN CALLED PANIC
(Panique au Village)
A Town Called Panic comes from Belgian animators Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar. The idea of animated plastic toys came to them at film school and they conducted initial experiments on sets of drawn cardboard. The embryo of A Town Called Panic was Stephane Aubiers film school graduation project in 1991 and several years later the duo premiered A Town Called Panic (2000) as a tv series on the French cable network Canal, which consisted of 20 four-minute episodes. Released as individual shorts, these became acclaimed hits at various film festivals and were dubbed into English under the supervision of no less than Aardman Animation. Aubier and Patar then spun the characters out as this feature film, which had the distinction of being the first full-length stop-motion animated film to play at the Cannes Film Festival.
Other reviewers were quick to make comparison between A Town Called Panic and Aardman Animations work, of which there is superficial similarities in that both are stop-motion animated films in a comedic vein. Unlike Aardman, A Town Called Panic derives its charms from its low-tech approach and the wacky novelty of seeing plastic toys come to life. Another comparison might be to Wes Andersons recent Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), which comes closer to the same ballpark with its scrappy low-tech stop-motion animation. For me, the comparison was more akin to the deliberately unsophisticated 2-D animation of tvs South Park (1997 ). You could say that A Town Called Panic is to the stop-motion animation films of Henry Selick The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Coraline (2009) et al what South Park is to Pixar and Disney.
On a level of plot description, A Town Called Panic would not be too different than say an episode of some childrens tv series like Bob the Builder (1999 ) or perhaps its closest counterpart Gumby (1953 ). The difference is that A Town Called Panic has a sense of humour that comes pitched to adults. The plot a picaresque that travels through various escapades from the brick buying fiasco to the problems with the stolen walls from the cone-headed fish people and side ventures down to the centre of the Earth and encounters with scientists in a robotic penguin (one point that the film seems to cross over into Aardman Animation territory), and of course Horses tentative attraction to the red-maned piano teacher Miss Longray is suitably nonsensical and rambling.
It is some time since I have had so much outright fun and laughed so often in an animated film. There is a deliriously nonsensical surrealism to the images of day-to-day life in the house be it the trio waking in the morning and Horse getting into the shower as Indian dries his feather headdress under a blow-dryer, or of Horse going to bed and kicking his horseshoes off and pulling a blanket up over himself. There are all manner of charmingly offhand pieces of absurdist nonsense like the surprise birthday cake for Horse made of chocolate-covered hay to the pig that climbs up onto its own spit. The climax of the film is a madcap siege against the merpeople who barricade themselves up in the house firing swordfish via bows, while Horse, Cowboy and Indian fire pigs back at them and cows catapulted off trampolines. The original A Town Called Panic shorts have become cult items in Europe and internationally in dubbed form on YouTube there is no reason why the film version should not as well. Madcap inventivity like this should be seen by everybody.
A further film was released with A Town Called Panic: Double Fun (2016), edited from some of the short films. Directors Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar next went on to direct the charming animated childrens film Ernest and Celestine (2012).
(Winner in this sites Top 10 Films of 2009 list).