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Hal MacDermot [Film Festival 11.08.09] movie review animation

Year: 2009
Directors: Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar
Writers: Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Hal MacDermot
Rating: 9 out of 10

A Town called Panic is an anarchic, absurdist stop-motion animation surrealistic gem, and it’s Belgian. I laughed my head off. It’s Aubier and Patar’s first feature length movie and is a development of their cult TV animation from 2001. The original French title is "Panique au Village," which actually means "panic in the village,” and makes more sense than the English translation. Panique au Village made the Cannes official selection this year- the first stop-motion animation ever to do so.

Panic is a good antidote to all those boring saw-your-head-off corporate emotion Toy Story-type animations. It is full of unpredictability and subversion, in contrast to the work of Pixar animation, which definitely has the ability to entertain quite a few people (many Quiet Earth fans probably not so much), but you really couldn’t accuse Pixar of being subversive, and their story plot points are always a by the book emotional check list.

The heroes of the show are three little plastic toys called Cowboy, Indian and Horse, who are what they are. They move around on their tiny plastic bases, and when Horse takes a shower and reads the newspaper, it’s pretty darn amusing. The plot is crackers and brilliant. It is Horse’s birthday, and Cowboy and Indian want to get him something more interesting than a cap, because he already has a wardrobe full. They order some bricks to build a barbecue for him, but by mistake they order 50 million. Some time after the delivery, they are plagued by a bunch of thieving underwater thingies that look like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. They also take a journey to the center of the earth and meet up with 3 insane scientists in the Antarctic who have a giant robot penguin that throws big snowballs. There you have it.

One danger with a stop motion based on plastic toys is that once the basic “toys acting like humans” joke has worn off, you get bored. I thought Panic held up well. They keep you involved by non-stop action and changing the locations. Another element was romance, as Horse is touchingly in love with a lady plastic Horse called Madame Longray. She’s a music teacher at the local conservatory. She has a pretty red mane, and a tongue-tied Horse signs up to 100 piano lessons just to be close to her. The underwater creatures are also fun. Every time Horse tries to rebuild his house, the creatures steal the walls. When Horse tries to reclaim what’s his, they start to fling pointy nosed barracudas at him, like crazy fish arrow missiles.

The creative team of Aubier and Patar met in art college back in 1986 and have been working together on short form animation ever since. An interesting bit of trivia is that Aubier had a very small role as a journalist in the brilliant and very dark comedy Man Bites Dog (C'est arrivé près de chez vous, 1992). In Europe, Panic has been released theatrically in the over the past few months. The American release date is next month, 16 December. Belgium is a country where surrealism rules, from the cartoon strip Le Chat, to the artist Magritte, to the government, which hasn’t really existed for decades. Aubier and Patar do an excellent job in letting the rest of the world in on their strange and brilliant humor.

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Anonymous (13 years ago) Reply

i watched some of the stuff on youtube ...the humor is very....special...
people used to say they couldnt get my love for slapstick and other simple humor but this even too simple for me ;)


projectcyclops (13 years ago) Reply

Trailer is pretty demented, will have to keep an eye out for this - looks incredible.

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