Monday, August 2, 2010

Movie Review: A Town Called Panic

Here's my take on A Town Called Panic, which is out now on DVD and (more importantly) Netflix Wii streaming. God, does it get better than saying "Wii Streaming" and actually having a reason to use the phrase. Here's my take:

Dali Dollies
A Town Called Panic is stop-motion surrealism

Folks, I’ve never dropped acid. Now, thanks to Panique au village (A Town Called Panic), I no longer have to feel like I’ve been missing out. Writers/directors/voice actors/likely-mushroom-enthusiasts Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar have whipped up a delightful little stop-motion hallucination without any lingering side-effects (fingers crossed anyway). Think of it like a French Toy Story, only instead of a tale of friendship set to Randy Newman’s drunken warbling, tiny plastic playthings chase underwater creatures through the center of the earth, only to be flung back home by a giant mechanical penguin.

Trying to synopsize the events feels like trying to organize a bucket of water into alphabetical droplets, but here’s sort of what happens: action figures of a cowboy (Aubier), a stereotypical “indian” (Bruce Ellison) and a horse (Patar) all live together in one house. Obviously, the horse is in charge because the old west adversaries, who act like ill-adjusted, paint-huffing siblings, are incapable of so much as bathing unattended. In attempt to build a barbecue grill for the horse’s birthday, they accidentally order 50 million bricks instead of 50. Oh the hilarity of extra zeroes, will you never end?

The cowboy and indian “hide” the 50 million bricks on the roof so that they can still throw the horse a party attended by the rest of the town, including farmer Steven (Benoît Poelvoorde), who is incapable of speaking without yelling and may or may not be sexually aroused by his tractor; Steven’s loving but obviously semi-deaf wife Janine (Véronique Dumont); the hapless policeman (Frédéric Jannin) and Madame Longrée (Jeanne Balibar), the female horse who is the local music teacher.

When the house inevitably collapses, cowboy and indian attempt to rebuild, only to have their walls stolen repeatedly by Gérard (Jannin), a mer-person who crawls out of a nearby pool. The chase after him goes through the earth’s core, winds through the arctic and spirals through the inside of the aforementioned mecha-penguin before returning to the largely destroyed village. If you followed that, give yourself an “A” in Whimsical Animated Surrealism 101.

Hyperkinetic and nonsensical, this slap-happy blend of “Gumby,” “Ren and Stimpy” and “Calvin and Hobbes” is goofy, giddy goodness that has absolutely no intellectual nutritional value. The moral of the story appears to be “don’t stack 50 million bricks on your roof,” a life lesson with few measurable applications. So what’s the point? I have no damn idea, even if I often had a damn fun time.

A Town Called Panic is yet another demonstration of what foreign filmmakers are willing to use the medium of animation to do, and that’s treat reality like stretchable silly putty. American audiences used to being thrown a bone by kid-flick creators looking to expand their demographic are likely to struggle with this rambunctious spaz attack. That said, every supposed patron of the arts who owns a framed Salvador Dali postcard should be required to put their eyeballs where their wall art is. If you like surrealism, I have a Town you should visit.

Grade – B

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