It’s Horse’s birthday, but Indian and Cowboy (Horse’s immature house mates) have forgotten to get him a gift. Luring him out of the house they use his computer to order fifty bricks to build him a birthday barbecue. However, they mistakenly order, and are delivered, fifty million bricks, trying to hide which sets them and the populace of their small town on a chain of adventures that includes destroying their house, trying to rebuild it, having their efforts stolen nightly by the aquatic monsters from the farmers pond (to build their own undersea house), finding a subterranean world, which leads to a frozen wasteland ruled by three evil scientists in a giant penguin tank whom take pleasure in launching giant snowballs halfway across the world, overthrowing the scientists… and so on and so forth it goes in a most unpredictable fashion.
What is it with the animated world and their synchronous tendency to release two similar projects in close proximity to each other? We had not seen an insect film in… well, forever, and then we get A Bug’s Life and Antz, ditto Finding Nemo and Shark Tale, and this year, not only do we get two evil genius film’s in Despicable Me and Megamind, but we also get two, somewhat less publicised, stop motion films featuring static toys as the main characters. The first was Jackboots On Whitehall and now the Belgium production A Town Called Panic.
As you may have guessed from the story synopsis it’s absolutely, dizzyingly, insane, and it’s not just the ‘story’ that is crazy, the animation and voice acting too are, shall we say, unorthodox and frenetic. Not content with using small toys as their medium, the directors Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar opt for a super-simplified, jerky, ‘hand-made’ stop motion style, which non-fans of the medium will instantly be turned off by, while the voice acting is non-stop from beginning to end which may also cause instant irritation to the idle viewer.
The ‘story’ is inexplicable but always remains inventive in that funny and nonsensical fashion of old-school cartoons. You never know where the characters are going to end up next and there’s no possible way for you to guess, because there’s no logical stream narrative. Watching A Town Called Panic is like seeing inside a child’s head as they play with their toys.
Unfortunately, while all these elements work well to draw fans of the bizarre into it’s purposely poorly produced little world, about mid-way through the whimsy and madness become less funny and intriguing, and more grating. Thankfully it keeps itself short, with a running time of about seventy-five minutes, which keeps you from truly disliking it, but even this leaves you thinking that maybe it should have been presented as a series of more manageable shorts, thereby not overplaying its charming little hand.
I find it hard to put my finger on what demographic A Town Called Panic is aimed at. It seems to be either very young children or, as mentioned, enthusiasts of the strange, with no real middle ground. Any children older than seven are now uses to a slicker style of animation and narrative, and the majority grown-ups will just find it irritating.
Definitely not for everyone.
C grade – for storytelling
D grade – for animation (but knowingly)
A grade – for originality
B- grade – for voice acting
Overall grade C+