A TOWN CALLED PANIC Review
(Our thanks goes out to Joseph Sylvers for the review)
The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy's book within the book begins with the phrase "Don't Panic", because the universe is a dizzying, dazzlingly complex place, that to take it all in at once could result in hyperventilating, existential angst, or spasmadic fits of fear and trembling, and before reading it in book form it's important to take a breath and relax. A Town Called Panic does not invite any moments of calm or temperance, or respite from the chaos of the world, instead it revels in its absurd animated mania that would not feel out of place on Adult Swim or Saturday mornings.
It is defiantly ridiculous, and never offensive, mean, or crude. In a dayglo town, we see old toys moving of their own accord. Toys from a time before action figures, when plastic figures stood on mounted bases and lacked bendable limbs.
A town called "the town", houses a postman, a policemen, a music school, a farmer, his wife, and their animals (who attend the music school), and a horse, an Indian, and a cowboy. The later are the films heroes here making their big screen debut from the Belgian produced animated series with the same name as the film. The trio forms a strange family, with the Horse heading the household, driving, the car, handling the finances, etc, with Cowboy and Indian as the two young impish tricksters getting into various shenanigans.
The action begins when the boys realize they have forgotten Horse's birthday, and decide at the last minute to build him a barbeque. The boys make a slight snafu when instead of ordering 50 bricks they have delivered 500,000 bricks. The best scene is a drunken party that takes place early on, but where I expected the film to dip after the 20 minute mark, it kept delivering, taking us into the center of the earth, into a Penguin shaped mobile Artic..."research"...station, and an undersea kingdom located directly beneath the town.
Horse, in love with the school's music teacher, only wants to get back to his lesson in time, but instead they chase a merman through a series of wacky encounters.
This was one of the few films that was screened twice during the AFI fest and I only caught the 2nd screening on the last day of the festival. The director wasn't there, but in place there was someone from the Belgian consulate who said that though he had not seen the film he had been assured by everyone who had that it followed in Belgium's unique tradition of cartoons, comics, and sense of humor. He spoke with a vague craftiness more like a producer than a diplomat, but perhaps there is not much difference in the two. In fairness all of the characters did seem to survive of a daily diet of fresh waffles (even the mermen).
The show has been on since 2003 in 5 minute segments, and given their previously limited time, it's impressive they can develop a full feature that never sags once. Though many have referred to the film as stop-motion, it is actually a process called puppetoon, where instead of "a single figure photographed and repositioned and photographed again" - according to wiki - the puppets are rigid and static pieces; each is typically used in a single frame and then switched with a separate, near-duplicate puppet for the next frame. Thus puppetoon animation requires many separate figures. It is more analogous in a certain sense to cell animation than is traditional stop-motion: the characters are created from scratch for each frame...". Though the effect is light, the production seems painstaking.
A Town Called Panic is a delightful lo-fi animated film, that doesn't aim to impart any kind of moral or lesson, but recreate a Chuck Jones's "Looney Toons" like free range explosion built of escalating absurdity and stacking gags on top of gags in a Tower Of Babel to cartoon comedy heaven. It doesn't quite reach these epic levels, but it's a fun film that I could imagine watching episodically week to week, late on a foggy night or over breakfast cereal the day after (or breakfast cereal late that night). Enjoyable for the uninitiated (like myself), and probably more of a treat for fans. At 75 minutes it's a breezy watch, rewarding in easy cheer and quirky charm. Along with Ponyo this is one of my favorite animated films of the year, and makes clear the point that there are still open avenues available to animators who want to work outside the CG universe.
(Editor's note: Zeitgeist Films will be releasing the film in the states starting on December 16th at NYC's Film Forum and then a slow roll out over most urban/major areas in early 2010. Check their site for further dates.)
Around the Internet: