TIFF 09: PANIQUE AU VILLAGE (A TOWN CALLED PANIC) Review

Todd Brown, Founder and Editor

Will Horse find true love? Will Steven fix his tractor? What will it take to stop the underwater pond dwellers from stealing the walls of Cowboy, Indian and Horse's house? Yes, boys and girls, it's the feature version of Panique Au Village, the demented cult Belgian animation sensation. And, yes, it is truly a sight to behold - a very odd site that will confuse some while leaving others on the floor gasping for breath from laughing so hard.

To try and summarize something as manic as Panique is a chump's game, it can't really be done, but here's what you need to know. Primitively animated in stop motion using clay models of the plastic cowboy, indian and farmyard plastic toys we all had as kids, Panique revolves around house-mates Cowboy, Indian and Horse as they go about their daily lives. Which in this case means dealing with the aftermath of an attempted birthday present gone wrong that results in fifty million bricks piled on the roof of the trio's house, which then collapses before the weight of the bricks opens up a portal to a secret underwater civilization that covets the trio's building skills and simply - and repeatedly - steals their home. There's also a giant snowball throwing penguin robot, parachuting cows, equine romance, parachuting cows and more, more, more.

The inventiveness of series creators Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar has never been in doubt, though what has been questioned here is how they would handle the transition from the short 5 - 10 minute episodes that made up the television series into the very different demands that a feature length production brings. The answer is very well, thanks. They've slowed the pace down slightly - a good thing as the manic energy of the television episodes would become exhausting over a full feature run time - while opting for a single, continuous (and bizarre) story line. Juvenile and absurd are perfectly good descriptors when talking about Panique, though only if they are accompanied by 'brilliant' and 'hysterical'. It's time for the cult to cross the ocean.

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