In the delightful and zany stop-motion animated French film A Town Called Panic, opening today at the Lagoon Cinema, Horse, Cowboy, and Indian are three plastic toys who run amok in their small town. Co-directors, and co-writers, Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar, who also lend their voices, play nice with their toys with plenty of adventure and humor turning A Town Called Panic (originally appearing as short television episodes on Belgian TV) into a smooth 75-minute feast for the senses.
As Horse’s birthday is approaching, Cowboy and Indian are thinking about what to give their dear friend; when Cowboy makes an error ordering bricks online for a barbeque pit, they are stuck with 50,000,000 bricks instead of the mere 50 they need. When Cowboy and Indian attempt to hide the bricks from Horse on top of their house, it comes crashing down and the three are left homeless. When they try to rebuild the house, it sets off a series of hilarious gags with others in their town including farmers and police officers as the three friends travel through a small pond and head everywhere the center of the earth to a frozen ice land and are left to deal with underwater creatures resembling the creature from the Black Lagoon.
Aubier and Patar have a knack of deftly taking their characters from one bizarre situation to the next without letting their surprising punchy narrative go slack. The beauty of the stop-motion animation comes from cinematographer Jan Vandenbussche and editor Anne-Laure Guegan, who give the rural town alarming and distinct colors. One scene has barnyard animals getting music lessons from another horse named Madame Longray, who is also trying to give lessons to Horse. The interaction between the two horses is a riot, and watching the different animals play the different instruments is like nothing that I have ever seen before. I couldn’t contain my laughter when Horse started banging away at the piano keys.
The film is subtitled, but that shouldn’t discourage parents from bringing their children to see this film during its brief theatrical run. Both young and old audiences will appreciate and be rewarded with an original family film in the company of Up, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Coraline as yet another breakout animated film to have been released in the past year. A Town Called Panic does have a few cuss words that are spoken in French, but they’re relatively tame and if this were an American film, my guess is it would get a PG rating. So don’t cause a panic getting to see this film, but don’t miss it either—especially on the big screen. This is a film that will only get better and better with each viewing for years to come.