Dallas IFF: Thursday (4/8) – Opening Night, ‘A Town Called Panic’

The 2010 Dallas International Film Festival got off to a rousing start as the Angelika Dallas center was host to multiple showcases (and a few celebrities, too).  Some of the night’s screenings went off without a hitch (see below), while others hit technical snags:  apparently both screen and projection issues marred the presentation of Bill Cunningham New York.  But happy faces and free booze can wear down the hardest hearts, and everyone seemed to be having a great time.

(My schedule for the week seemed off to a rocky start: thinking I was going to be unable to attend the animated feature A Town Called Panic, I had to make a day-of request for a ticket, sure that the film would be an automatic sell-out and that I would be out on the sidewalk chatting up Amanda Seyfried.  Now that I have written that out, it does sound appealing.  I did manage to arrange entry, but more importantly, for what one would assume is the most frantic day of a festival, the staff was a pleasure to deal with at every turn.)

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French, but with the screechy vocals of a certain classic British comedy troupe and the frenetic motion of a small American child with too many toys, A Town Called Panic explodes on the screen in the giddiest ways possible.  Animated through the jerky stop-motion of small action figures, the film supplies a child’s imagination with an adult’s sense of humor and propriety.

Cowboy, Indian and Horse live together in their house, situated across the road from angry farmer Steven and his wife Janine (and their many, many farm animals).  One morning Indian and Cowboy realize that it is Horse’s birthday and they have not yet purchased a gift.  They decide to buy bricks and make him a barbecue, but due to an error in the online order they end up with an excess of materials, which they hide in a very thoughtless manner, causing the eventual destruction of their beloved home.

They begin rebuilding, but each night the unfinished walls mysteriously go missing.  As the trio searches for the culprits, they end up travelling as far as the center of the earth and an adjoining polar region before returning to their town.  In the process they face strange aquatic creatures, mad scientists, a penguin-shaped tank and Mrs. Longray, the music teacher with whom Horse is secretly in love.

Sometimes the smallest details in the film are the funniest.  Characters “walk” around on flat toy bases that make a constant rhythmic patter.  They frequently move at accelerated speeds, as in silent movies, and they do like to party.  But even play toys must deal with the after-effects of too much food, drink and dance.

A Town Called Panic is so happy and fun that it’s hard not to like.  The film has been making festival rounds for several months and is a huge hit.  How general audiences will react to its lighter-than-air presence remains to be seen.   Uniquely frantic, jaunty, and far more comical than most festivals will allow, A Town Called Panic is a great way to start a week of movies.

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