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A Town Called Panic (2009, Belgium)

20/02/2011

Directors: Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar

Brought to you by the same creative (although clearly deranged) minds that produced the insane Cravendale milk adverts, A Town Called Panic is a frenetic, madcap, lunatic escapade concerned largely with the antics of Cowboy, Indian and Horse. Living up to it’s title, it’s a visual tribute to frenzy and chaos although it is clear from the attention to detail of the stop motion animation that somewhere, somehow, somebody had a plan.

If you are unfamiliar with the aforementioned adverts they are manic animated shorts, stop motion style, using the sort of childrens’ toys you get for making toy farmyards and wild west towns. A Town Called Panic is the evolution of this into a feature length film. In spite (or perhaps because) of the limitations of these raw materials, the film is an inventive and surreal joy to behold. The characterisation they manage to squeeze out of such seemingly static models is phenomenal and the stream of consciousness antics that unfold are reminiscent of Gilliam’s work with Monty Python. On acid. The plot alone, that somehow manages to link an otherwise straightforward love story with an excess of building materials, a giant robotic penguin, mad scientists and a family of mer-people  is positively mind bending and yet somehow, at least in the context of the film, every random tangent seems to make some sort of sense.

One of the keys to the film’s success is also possibly the only thing that threatens to undermine it. The residents of the village seem to (rather aptly) exist in a state of constant panic. They are shouty, hyperactive lunatics and the constant energy of the film does at times threaten to overwhelm you with it’s super-caffeinated noise and bluster. Thankfully, its 75 minute running time seems about right for it to avoid being tiresome. I suspect much longer and the experience would have been more exhausting than exhilarating but as it stands the sheer dementedness of it doesn’t outstay its welcome. 

I’m not sure that a film like this could ever be considered a serious rival to the international heavyweights of animated films (the Pixars and Ghiblis of this world) but it does deserve to be seen. It has an originality and a fearlessness that cannot be denied and has clearly been made by people who love what they are doing. The attention that has been lavished on the sets and the effort that has been put into animating lots of tiny, insignificant seeming details make it a rich if slightly disorienting experience. It made me laugh too. The sort of hearty, healthy laughter that you get when you watch old Warner Brother’s cartoons that doesn’t require anyone to “get” the joke. Yes it’s silly, very silly in fact,  but that is largely the point. Sometimes it’s fun to just let go and enjoy silliness for its own sake.

 

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