Town Called Panic, AReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 10/27/09 04:12:49
SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASTIC FEST: "A Town Called Panic" hit me just right tonight; it might not have on another day. It is, you see, an extraordinarily silly animated film, and sometimes one just doesn't feel like silliness. Of course, those times may be when one needs it the most.Just outside the title town, Cowboy (voice of Stéphane Aubier) and Indian (voice of Bruce Ellison) live with Horse (Vincent Patar). It's Horse's birthday, but they've forgotten, so they trick him into going into town on an errand - it doesn't take much convincing, as he's got a major crush on Madame Longrée (voice of Jeanne Balibar), the horse who runs the music school - while they order some bricks to build Horse a barbecue. Fifty bricks accidentally become fifty million, which, through a series of events that I presume is obvious, inevitably leads to problems with sea monsters and mad scientists.
Given that two of the main characters are horses who live side-by-side with other talking animals and sea monsters, it's little surprise that this film is animated. The style is a delightfully charming throwback, though: After a smoothly animated title sequence, the picture flips to mostly stop-motion, using toys that sometimes look to have been dug out of the creators' parents' attics. These aren't highly-articulated action figures, but minimally posable things that often have their feet grafted to an immobile base. Or, at least, they look that way - given how things tend to fly through the air, there's likely at least some digital wire removal going on, and the characters will often appear in poses that suggest that they're either more flexible than they first appeared or the filmmakers have built other models which share the same limited range of movement.
Still, the film doesn't feel terribly static, campy, or cheap. Part of that is because these toys live in meticulous, fancifully created environments: Horse's bed, for instance, is designed like a stall, so it looks like a place that a toy horse would sleep. Ditto the pianos that Horse and Mme. Longrée play, with their keys low to the ground, designed for barnyard animals. Other environments are built in detail, never feeling unreal or like they end just outside of camera range (even with the widescreen framing). The voice-work is also spot-on and enthusiastic; it's maybe a little crude, but it makes up for the characters' limited range of facial expression and gets the characters' personalities across, even if you don't speak any French.
The movie's biggest asset, though, is that it is consistently funny. It's an extension of cartoon shorts, and as a result can sometimes feel like writer/directors Aubier & Patar have strung a few smaller bits together, but more in how what's happening now is far from what was going on ten minutes earlier. They zip from crazy situation to crazy situation in a way that is never jarring or overly frantic, though, and each scene has a thing or two that will make the audience chuckle, and most will make them laugh harder.It's also pretty kid-friendly, which was a bit of a surprise as animated films at festivals (especially genre festivals) often tend toward raunchier fare. I'd peg it at about a PG - Cowboy and Indian do carry around and use their rifle and bow and arrows, and there's a little bit of language that could be easily covered over in the dub or subtitling. More importantly, "A Town Called Panic" made me laugh without my having to go to a kid's movie state of mind; it should work for anyone looking to laugh for an hour or so.
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