Town Called Panic

a review by Steve Cameron

Distributor: Madman
Year: 2009
Language:French (with English subtitles)

Cowboy and Indian share a house with Horse in a small town called Panic. And there is a reason why the town is named thus.  The film opens on Horse’s birthday. Unfortunately Cowboy and Indian have forgotten to buy him a present. They finally decide to build him a brick barbecue  only to realise they don’t actually have enough bricks. And so they must order the required bricks online. And from that simple premise, incredible events transpire and things go from bad to worse. The other townsfolk all become involved – Policeman, Postman, Steven (the shouting farmer), Janine (Steven’s wife), and Madame Longrée, the piano teacher at the local music school (who also happens to be a horse.) Together our three heroes end up on a journey through the bowels of the Earth, across an Arctic wasteland, and into a pond where Black Lagoon type creatures dwell.

This Belgian production is a beautifully filmed stop-motion animation. Utilising plastic cowboys and indians, farm animals and other toys similar to those I played with as a young boy, the makers have created a childlike and dreamy world that I fell in love with from the moment the film started. The settings are vivid, colourful and wonderful to watch. For the first thirty minutes I was completely intrigued, lost in this bizarre world. And then I became a little bewildered as the storyline appeared to wander off on inconsequential tangents and events occurred that were never fully resolved and seemed only to have happened in order to keep the narrative progressing. Part psychedelic, part surreal and part stream-of-consciousness, you really need to suspend all disbelief and sit back to enjoy the trip. But who could not fall in love with a piano playing horse, a robotic penguin controlled by three mad scientists (who delight in throwing snowballs at unsuspecting victims) and an angry farmer who starts fights and shouts all the time.

This film is a spinoff from a series of twenty minute shorts produced for Belgian TV, and I can well imagine the animation being more effective at that length. The middle of the film seemed to drag a little during an extended chase sequence, but certainly picked up towards the end. Not all the humour was to my taste, but I know there are others who loved every minute of the film. I thoroughly recommend A Town Called Panic to kids of all ages, especially those who are tired of the usual selection of animations. And, I suspect, this could become a favourite for a number of adults as well.

Previously published in Dark Matter issue 4, July 2011, blog post predated to reflect the original publication date.

Cover and stills © 2009 – La Parti Production – Beast Productions – Gebeka Films – Les Films Du Grognon- Made In Productions – Melusine Productions – Rtbf (Television Belge)