RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: A TOWN CALLED PANIC [PANIQUE AU VILLAGE] (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar

FEATURING: Stéphane Aubier, Bruce Ellison, Vincent Patar

PLOT: The childish Cowboy and Indian decide to build their roommate Horse a brick

Still from A Town Called Panic (2009)

barbecue for his birthday, but after accidentally ordering 50 million bricks instead of just 50, they launch a spectacular and hilarious chain of events involving sea creatures, catapulted farm animals, music lessons, burning lava, mad scientist overlords, and a giant robotic penguin.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The inexplicable premise sets up a story that escalates into weirder and weirder territory as it progresses.  A lively assemblage of old-fashioned model figures rendered in clay prance about a candy-colored landscape sporting Looney Tunes-worthy voices and completely nonsensical motivations.  Their experiences get funnier as they become more surreal, with frequent disregard of the laws of physics, a range of goofy outbursts, eclectic personalities, and unpredictable changes of scenery.  As a film it’s immensely enjoyable, but completely impossible to explain.

COMMENTS: Belgian writers/directors Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar adapted A Town Called Panic from their television series starring bickering housemates Horse, Cowboy, and Indian, featuring a wide variety of shenanigans.  In the beginning of this movie, the trio transform a few normal life experiences (running a farm, finding a birthday gift, taking music lessons) into uncategorizable slices of a child’s playtime.  As it moves along, the small connection to reality dissipates in trips to the center of the earth, Antarctic mad science, and underwater department stores.

The animation is incredibly playful and dynamic, and the sets look like they jumped out of a Dr Seuss illustration.  The characters, modeled in clay to resemble plastic action figures, move around with jerky large movements and detailed fine ones, propelling the film forward with an insane energy.  No matter what is happening on screen, it is extremely fun to watch, as well as an impressive technical achievement.  The bursts of garage rock soundtrack perfectly suit the manic atmosphere of the visuals.

It’s immensely funny, and chock-full of surrealistic imagery and wacky surprises.  Many of the voices are high-pitched to match the rapid, anxious dialogue.  The story is crazy, but somehow it all makes sense within the parameters of this imaginary world that Patar and Aubier have created.  It fits that when a house is crushed by a mountain of bricks, it just flips upside down and hangs underwater, or that falling down a deep crevice leads to the earth’s molten core.  Once you’re into the swing of things, just sit back and allow the insanity, cartoon violence, and non sequiturs to unfold across this unplanned epic journey.

While the script is notably zany, it’s quite smart and thoughtful, with various cute details and references that create a good balance between the physical comedy and dialogue.  The characters are adorable and surprisingly relatable in their own ways, offering such delightful antics and madcap conversations that—when taken in together with the bold visuals—multiple viewings are required to fully appreciate the film’s humor and imagination.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Made with an anarchic, anything-goes spirit, this is truly a film, not to mention a town, where you never know what’s going to happen next.” – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times (contemporaneous)

NOTE: This review is also published in a slightly different form at Film Forager.

2 thoughts on “RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: A TOWN CALLED PANIC [PANIQUE AU VILLAGE] (2009)”

  1. Finally got around to seeing this and, yes, it should be a legitimate candidate for the List. I can’t think of many films that seem like they’re being told to us directly by a child, using a child’s logic when the kid is letting his or her mind run wild exploring imaginary kingdoms. The directors use the absolute minimum amount of story discipline necessary to keep the tale from flying totally off the hook, and add enough little jokes to keep adults watching. I loved the giant, snowball-throwing robotic penguin! This is on Netflix streaming now, so more readers of this site should be seeing this one and talking about it.

    1. This is the only film I can think of that genuinely made me feel like a child again while watching it. It’s more than entertainment–it’s a psychically interactive experience that, if you let yourself flow along with it, allows you to reconnect with what made your childhood play so magical. It truly blurs the line behind fantasy and reality in the most delightful and life-affirming way.

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