At the time when most of the really cool, intelligent and interesting movies are either independent, European or both, it’s not surprising that it took a pair of European filmmakers – Belgians Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar – to create the most insane and absurd cartoon adventure of the last … I’m not even sure how many years. If you thought “Incredible Mr. Fox” was weird (and I loved this one by the way) – wait till you see “A Town Called Panic” or, as it’s originally called, “Panique Au Village.”
The creators of this cartoon treat stop-motion animation just like “South Park” creators treat classic hand-drawn method – it’s as primitive as it gets (at first it looks like watching children play with toys), but at same time as expressive as it can be by means of dialogue, voices and a totally absurd plot.
Reasonable and serious Horse shares a house with two idiots – Cowboy and Indian. One fine morning the latter discover that Horse has a birthday – and they didn’t get him a present. So the two friends lure Horse out of the house – farmer helps them by sending him to pick up animals from a music school (yes, there is a special animal class at the school), and go online to order bricks – so they can build Horse a barbecue. By mistake they order 50 million bricks instead of just 50. From then on chaos and panic ensues. But it’s not just them – the whole tiny community they reside in, including farmer and his wife, a policeman, a postman and a musical school administrator-deejay-bartender – are all decidedly panic-stricken. In course of the story Horse and his friends will travel to the center of earth, be temporarily enslaved by wacko scientists (apparently Russian) operating a giant penguin machine walking across tundra, and have a face-off with nasty green people in the underwater town. But even in all this chaos, there is a love story going on – between Horse and piano teacher Madam Longray.
Apart from the totally absurd insane plot, the movie is full of hilarious small details. Such as the horse brushing its teeth, typing on a computer and driving a car, or all farmer’s animals sleeping in a barn in proper beds – well of course, they even take musical lessons. There is a great moment with donkey trying to read before bed, and pigs repeatedly asking him to turn the lights out. There is also Madam Longray calling Horse on his cell while he’s climbing a wall somewhere in the earth core, and him answering he’s just late for the piano lesson.
The characters of “Panic” are essentially little papier mache figurines – some of them with platforms attached to their feet. Their movements are jerky, they have no facial expression – just one and the same painted face – and yet, they all have very distinctive character. And apart from their ability to go nuts in all the possible ways, they surely know how to party – with booze, music and dancing. They prove it both at Horse’s birthday celebration and the final disco – a perfect ending to this explosion of craziness and fun.