A few years ago, at the Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison, I saw a French animated film with my dad called “A Town Called Panic,” or in French, “Panique Tous Courts,” from 2016. The film was made by Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, a duo of Belgian filmmakers who have worked together on a few other animated movies, including other specials that include the “A Town Called Panic” characters.
Not a huge fan of reading subtitles at the time, I was intrigued but not thrilled about seeing this goofy-looking film. But what I experienced was an extremely well-made and funny film about three friends who keep running into trouble. The movie is made with stop-motion animation and the three main characters are old children’s toys/figurines. Cowboy, Indian (who’s character depiction is a problematic aspect of the film) and Horse are best friends who live in a lovely little house together. The main plot is that for Horse’s birthday, Cowboy and Indian plan to build a barbecue pit for Horse. Instead of ordering 50 bricks, they accidentally order 50 million bricks for their project! Somehow, with all these bricks, their house falls down. Using the bricks, the friends attempt to rebuild their home wall by wall, but whenever they build a wall it gets mysteriously stolen in the night. The friends are determined to find the culprits and go on a wild chase to find out the thieves’ identities and motives.
Using mostly toys and clay to create the characters and environment, “A Town Called Panic” incorporates color, humor and personality. It is a fully developed plot and the relationships built within the film are quite warmhearted and sweet. The story is absurd and silly, but the humor reads for a wide range of audience. A mix of slapstick comedy and clever jokes works well with the figurines who have limited movement abilities. The house the trio live in is set up to accommodate a horse; watching the three live in their own space is reminiscent of the physical and clever comedy of something like “PeeWee’s Playhouse” or “Wallace and Gromit.”
One of the reasons I enjoy and remember this movie all these years later is its commitment. Every aspect is executed so well and cleverly. Stop-motion animation, especially with small plastic toys, is challenging; the animators are able to use its absurdness to their advantage. It’s the perfect mix of color, humor and cinematography. It accomplishes a blend of craftsmanship and goofiness that any age group is able to enjoy. I would recommend this movie to anybody, especially hard-working college students who need a break to laugh at and enjoy art!