(2009) directors Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar
An oddball, funny, fun stop-motion animated feature film from Belgium, A Town Called Panic was a real hit with the kids. Expanded from a television show, short episodes of the wacky adventures of Horse, Indian, and Cowboy, the whole character and aesthetic of the world of A Town Called Panic is one where little toys have come to life. The figures don’t have great depth of facial expression and many of the standing figures have little platforms attached to their feet like the army men in Toy Story (1995) and thus waddle about for movement and express themselves with their whole bodies. The limitations of the characters’ movements and style are all chosen and opted for in the filmmakers’ aesthetics and give the film its hilarious and kooky personality.
The fact that the characters are “supposed to be” animated toys belies the fact that they actually have multitudinous models for the characters to give them the range of expression and physical extremes. It’s a wholly different approach to stop-motion animation from say, Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) or Coraline (2009). But it’s further argument that 2009 was a fantastic year for the form.
The story is sort of simple, but it grows into an epic-like adventure. It’s Horse’s birthday, so Cowboy and Indian, the troublemakers of the gang, order some bricks to build him a barbecue as a gift, but accidentally order too many, which leads to the destruction of their home. Their subsequent re-build of their house is troubled by the theft of their walls, which turns out to be the doings of a submarine Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)- like gang of amphibious fellows who live in the underworld world below. There is also a weird sequence in which a motorized giant penguin, run by super-strong old scientists, roams a snowy wasteland throwing giant snowballs at other worlds on the planet.
It’s the absurdity and comedy that make this whole film just plain fun. It was in French, with subtitles, which I had to read to them, which oddly didn’t diminish their enjoyment at all. They watched it the next morning on their own again and laughed just as hard the second time around. In fact, Felix rated it among his favorite films of all time, a list which I tried to query him on to of which get a better understanding.
Sometimes the best things are the weird little ones that you just plain aren’t expecting.