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 build him a barbecue. Due to an error with the online ordering form, they end up with an excess of materials which they hide in a very thoughtless manner, causing the destruction of their beloved home.
They begin rebuilding, but each night the unfinished walls go missing. As the trio searches for the culprits, they end up travelling as far as the center of the earth and a frozen wasteland 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” by hobbling around on flat toy bases that make a constant rhythmic patter. Daily routines like showering, dressing and eating breakfast take on a comic edge as their stiff bodies must conform to stairs, doorways and high, narrow automobiles. They frequently move at high speeds, like 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 change of pace for animated features.