‘A Town Called Panic’

| Cadenza Reporter
Courtesy of Aardman Animations

These days it’s difficult to go to theaters and watch an animated motion picture that is not in 3-D. With Pete Docter’s “Up” deservedly garnering an award for Best Animated Feature and, more notably, a symbolic nomination for best picture, it’s very likely that theaters will be swamped with animations intricately made with computer graphics in the future. Considering this trend, I find myself worrying that 2-D animations won’t be produced anymore. Was it because of grandiose special effects that everyone loved “Wallace & Gromit” and Hayao Miyazaki’s works? No—we loved those films because they were bursting with a child’s imagination and held us to our seats with gripping plotlines.

Directly going against the major shift to 3-D and computer animation, “Panique au village” (“A Town Called Panic”), a stop-motion picture directed by Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, is a real treat. Originally a TV series produced in Belgium, “Panique” features three main characters: the Cowboy, the Indian and the Horse. They live as a family in a town situated God-knows-where, where animals take music lessons, and shouts and bouts of panic are considered normal. This unlikely trio of heroes winds up traveling to the tundra, the core of the Earth and the deep sea where strange pointy-headed creatures dwell. Shenanigans that occur during this bizarre trip are better left to be experienced than explained.

What’s interesting about “Panique” is how Aubier and Patar make these toy characters move like actual toys. Their movements are far from smooth; they move about jerkily, like they’re high on caffeine. But these movements become natural with time as the film shapes its own reality. The Cowboy and the Indian, with little green mountings attached to their feet, fitfully move sideways as they climb down the stairs. The Indian shoots arrows at the Cowboy as he runs for his life, and Aubier and Patar take brief pauses after the deadpan jokes and gags. These details are just too hilarious to miss.

“Panique” is a montage consisting of unrelated events, yet it holds together, even though its momentum dwindles after the brilliant first half. No matter what flaws it might have, a film with a horse who loves hard rock-n-roll, drinks coffee in the morning, falls in love and builds brick houses will always grab my attention.

Directed by: Stephanie Aubier, Vincent Patar
And starring: Vincent Patar, Stephanie Aubier, Bruce Ellison, Benoit Poelvoorde