A Town Called Panic (Zeitgeist Films, NR)

It’s a film that is just as suitable to kids as it is to a big crowd of stoned college students.

 If you were to let a couple of eight-year olds make the best film they could with the toys in their room, it would likely come out more or less like Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar’s A Town Called Panic, and I mean that in the best possible way.

A Town Called Panic is a French stop motion animated film starring Cowboy (voiced by Aubier), Indian (voiced by Bruce Ellison), and Horse (voiced by Patar), who are animated with the type of action figures a young boy would play with, and in the case of Cowboy and Indian, complete with the little platform under their feet that helps them to stay propped up (this makes them walking very funny in and of itself). But it isn’t just the toys that make Panic childlike—the voices are done very cheesily (but endearingly), like a more talented (and French) version of Bob Saget’s work on America’s Funniest Home Videos, and the plot is a whirlwind of nonsense, involving thieving and malicious man-like creatures that live under the sea, 50 million bricks, a music teacher that is a female horse, and a host of other nonsense.

One might think that, given that the three main characters are a horse, a cowboy, and an Indian, the horse and cowboy would have something of an alliance and the Indian would be the bad guy, but that’s not the case. Here, Cowboy and Indian are friends, and Horse is a father figure to them. Why? I don’t know, but it’s awesome, and just one of a constant stream of odd things you have to go with while watching the movie.

It would all likely get fairly tiresome if the film were any longer—its total running time is a scant 75 minutes—but as it stands, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. The film is based on a Belgian television series of shorts of the same name, which were released by England’s Aardman studios, home of Wallace & Gromit. While W&G and Panic maybe don’t have that much in common once you get past superficial things, A Town Called Panic does have a distinctly British sense of whimsy, which is something I can easily get on board with. It’s a film that is just as suitable to a matinee with the kids as it is to a midnight screening with a big crowd of stoned college students; I loved every minute of it. | Pete Timmermann

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