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  • A Town Called Panic (Panique au village) | Review

    Dallas International Film Festival 2010

    By | April 6, 2010

    Directors: Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar

    Writer: Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar

    Starring: Jeanne Balibar (Voice), Nicolas Buysse (Voice), Véronique Dumont (Voice)

    Welcome to a town where panic is the prevailing emotion (“Oh, no!” is spoken more than any other line of dialogue). Here, three aptly named roommates – Cowboy (voiced by Stéphane Aubier), Indian (voiced by Bruce Ellison) and Horse (voiced by Vincent Patar) – with unbelievably bad luck are able to unleash utter (and occasionally udder) mayhem at the drop of a brick amongst the quaint rolling hills of the rural community in which they call home. Their neighbors are a gruff farmer named Steven (voiced by Benoît Poelvoorde) and his wife Jeanine (voiced by Véronique Dumont). Other townspeople include: Madame Longree (Jeanne Balibar) – a horse with a name – who teaches music lessons to the younger inhabitants of town; and the mere figure of order, Policeman (voiced by Frédéric Jannin), who dances better than he polices.

    The film commences with Horse’s birthday – an occasion that Cowboy and Indian fail to remember. Cowboy and Indian scramble to find the perfect gift for Horse resulting in a comedy of errors in which 50 million bricks are delivered to their house. It is not long before the story dissolves into a surreal assault of nonsensical situations that are tied together by neither rhyme nor reason. One minute, Horse, Indian and Cowboy are dangling mere meters above the Earth’s molten core; the next minute they are swimming after three little amphibious thieves in a parallel underwater universe; then, they are aimlessly trekking across icy tundra where they encounter a team of mad scientists traveling in a giant snowball-throwing robotic penguin. And forget about cats and dogs, in A Town Called Panic it rains cows.

    Neither sense nor logic exists in the world of A Town Called Panic – this is essentially a cinematic representation of the playtime fantasies of a dangerously imaginative and hyperactive five-year old child (it makes the Toy Story films seem like snooze-fests written by stodgy and stuffy Hollywood studio hacks). The sets are constructed with papier-mache and cardboard; the characters are plastic toy figurines – most of which stand upright with the aid of a flat base to which their feet are attached – of mismatching dimensions, as if the aforementioned child was let loose in a vintage toy shop for 10 minutes and given enough funds to buy a bucketful of toys. Coherency and cohesion be damned, A Town Called Panic is pure unadulterated anarchy!

    When the characters are not communicating in the universal language of hollers, screams and yells; they speak (or, more accurately: shout) in French (with English subtitles). Sure, A Town Called Panic could have quite simply been overdubbed by English-speakers; but for a non-French speaking audience, the foreign language – at times seeming sped up to the high-pitched squeal of the Chipmunks – adds a whole other level of absurdist craziness to the mix.

    Densely packed with 75 minutes of relentless gags and absurdist galore, A Town Called Panic is the crazed creation of Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar the Belgian stop motion (more specifically: puppetoon) animation duo. Aubier and Patar – who met at Belgium’s School of Visual Arts – introduced humankind to the fantastic world of A Town Called Panic by way of a series of five-minute short films that eventually made their way onto television networks worldwide. Existing fans should rest assured that the feature-length film is no less brilliant than their short films and this premiere foray into cinemas is by no means a sell-out; instead, it is the next logical step towards the world domination of Cowboy, Indian and Horse.

    You better watch your backs Sheriff Woody and Buzz Lightyear, A Town Called Panic will surely wreak havoc to your Real 3-D world with this ingenious little 2-D toy story.

    Rating: 9/10

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