A Town Called Panic (French: Panique au village), 2009.
Directed by Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar.
Featuring the voice talents of Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, Jeanne Balibar, Bouli Lanners and Benoît Poelvoorde.
A trio of plastic toys embark on a series of surreal adventures.
Due to the predictability and unoriginality of a large proportion of cinema releases these days, it’s often not particularly difficult to predict the entire plot of a film having only seen its title and viewed its trailer. If a film’s advertising does manage to retain enough ambiguity regarding what Jennifer Aniston is going to do about her romantic predicament by the end of the movie, or whether or not Will Smith will be able to save the world from giant, man-eating, robotic, flying dinosaurs; it’s still safe to say that you’ll probably still have a relatively good understanding of a film’s concept before you head off to Cineworld to see it.
My viewing of A Town Called Panic, however, was one of those rare occasions where this was definitely not the case. I had literally no idea what to expect from the French/Belgian/Luxembourgian/ British stop-motion animation that apparently starred cheap toy figurines and looked quite a lot like the Cravendale milk adverts. I was none the wiser after viewing the intriguing, but slightly baffling trailer. Even watching a couple of the five minute episodes of the TV series on which the film is based just confused me further as much as I enjoyed them, I wasn’t sure that the adventures of the miniature, plastic characters could be efficiently stretched out to a full length feature film.
As usual, however, I was wrong. A Town Called Panic turned out to be unique, vibrant, funny and completely bonkers. It focuses on a cowboy, an Indian and a horse that share a house together in a small but chaotic village. One morning, Cowboy and Indian wake up to discover they’ve forgotten Horse’s birthday. In an attempt to make up for neglecting their friend’s special day they decide to build him a barbeque – which subsequently leads to them completely destroying their house before pursuing some thieving aqua-monsters to an underwater parallel universe, journeying across the arctic and travelling to the centre of the Earth. Horse, however, spends the entire adventure trying to deal with the more pressing issue of getting back to the village in time for a piano lesson with his particularly enticing music teacher.
Inevitably, the film is a bit relentless with regards to the amount of adventure that continuously hurtles towards the audience. On a number of occasions I found myself completely immersed in some ridiculous situation that the trio had got themselves into, but completely forgetting how they had managed to get there or what had been happening in the previous scene. You pretty much have to give into the fact that you have to take the film moment by moment as you watch the chaos unfold, and, considering that the characters get themselves into a number of scrapes and always emerge unscathed, that you’re witnessing a world where action and consequence don’t necessarily always come hand in hand.
This definitely isn’t a bad thing though and there is enough humour, charm, and visual wit to keep this rolling for seventy five minutes. Considering that we live in an age where computer animation is so advanced that you could convey all the complexity of any human emotion on an animated piece of cling film if you so desired, it’s pretty impressive that the relatively static and expressionless stop-motion figurines of A Town Called Panic can seem so vivacious. They all have individual personalities with their own, unique quirks which is testament to the voice actors’ and animators’ talents who bring these characters to life so vividly.
In terms of both style and content, A Town Called Panic is probably one of the most imaginative films you’ll see at the cinema for a while. It’s sharp, clever and proof that Pixar aren’t the only ones that can tell a good ol’ ‘toy story.’