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A Town Called Panic an exhilarating cinematic joy
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A Town Called Panic an exhilarating cinematic joy

by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

A Town Called Panic
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A Town Called Panic owes a debt of gratitude to Luis Buñel, Stanley Kubrick, Tex Avery, and Barbara Peters. Barbara Peters? How did she make this list of diverse and distinguished film talent? More on that later.

A Town Called Panic is a feature-length stop-motion animated film based on a Belgian TV series with a cult following. The film screened at the Cannes and Toronto film festivals in 2009 and finds its way into extremely limited release here in the U.S. at the start of 2010. In fact, A Town Called Panic holds the unique distinction of being the only stop-motion animated feature film ever to screen at Cannes.

A Town Called Panic stars Horse and his excitable sidekicks Indian and Cowboy. Horse is the intelligent leader of the trio who gets caught up in the buffoonery of his buddies. Indian is only slightly less idiotic than the bottom-feeding, cowardly Cowboy. They live in a bucolic village that consists of their unconventional household (I wonder what rhetorical gemstones Pat Robertson would drop regarding their living situation?), the neighbors Steven and Jeanine, the neighbor's farm animals, a postman, and a policeman.

Things get rolling as Indian and Cowboy decide to build Horse a barbeque grill for his birthday (no word on what Horse planned on grilling). Due to some clever slapstick oversight, Indian and Cowboy accidently order 50 million (instead of 50) bricks.

Going from a bungled birthday gift to being in the bowels of the earth, submerged in an aquatic alternate universe, and trekking through expansive arctic landscapes aboard a rusty penguin research robot is simply de rigueur cartoon fun, with roots stretching back to Avery and Méliès, and filmmakers Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar do it with style. When the laughs are this inventive and come this fast, you won't have time to think about narrative plausibility.

This is classic situational comedy. Aubier and Patar are not re-inventing the wheel. However, the gleeful absurdity, clever sight gags, and modern references keep everything feeling fresh.

The painstaking process of stop-motion animation turned out nicely. Hundreds of figures were used in a shoot lasting over 260 days. The results are not as artistically satisfying as the animation in The Triplets of Belleville or Persepolis, but the art direction is distinctive and serves up the sight gags with verve.

Despite all my lofty musings, the best reason to see A Town Called Panic is for the pure exhilarating joy the filmmakers bring. It's not about a message (though I'm pretty sure they are making fun of Americans somehow); it is about absurd characters that keep making the same mistakes and end up in all sorts of crazy scrapes and inescapable cliffhangers. A Town Called Panic is just plain fun.

Oh yeah, the Barbara Peters thing: She directed the Roger Corman production of Humanoids from the Deep in 1980. Check out A Town Called Panic and you'll see what I mean.

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