'Panic' City: Mirth And Mayhem, At 4 Inches Tall

W: A scene from 'A Town Called Panic'

Home Is Where The Horse Is: Our equine hero and his hapless human housemates take a break from their high-speed stop-motion adventures battling waffle-loving sea creatures and parachuting cows. Zeitgeist Films hide caption

itoggle caption Zeitgeist Films

A Town Called Panic

  • Director: Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar
  • Genre: Animated
  • Running Time: 75 minutes

Not rated

With: Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar, Bruce Ellison

(Recommended)

Deciphering the internal logic that rules the frenetic Belgian stop-motion feature A Town Called Panic is an exercise in joyful futility. This is, after all, a movie that begins with rowdy plasticine buddies Cowboy and Indian resolving to build a barbecue pit for Horse, their wiser and more mature housemate.

They accidentally order 50 million bricks — a million times what they actually need — from an online retailer. Undaunted when the mountain of materiel crushes their property, they rebuild the facade, only to have it spirited away by a pack of wall-thieving sea creatures.

Then they embark on a roundabout quest that includes parachuting livestock, a giant mechanical penguin that creates and catapults perfect snowballs, and Horse, in an incognito adventure as Santa Claus, riding a stingray.

Since 2003, creators Vincent Patar and Stephane Aubier have been doling out the adventures of Cowboy, Indian and Horse in five-minute segments made for television, each one sketching the latest absurdist goings-on in a rural community where humans and animals commingle on roughly equal hoofing.

Like Toy Story off its meds, the series starts with the charming make-believe of playthings that come to life, but the comparisons end there. Patar and Aubier's creations are generic, cut-rate plastic figurines that jerk and shimmy as if controlled by an invisible child's hands. And the crude but lovingly hand-crafted models they inhabit have the pleasing simplicity of those old Thomas the Tank Engine cartoons.

A scene from 'A Town Called Panic' i i

A Town Called Panic traffics in giddy nonsense and unlikely perils. (Note the rapidly shrinking snowball.) Zeitgeist Films hide caption

itoggle caption Zeitgeist Films
A scene from 'A Town Called Panic'

A Town Called Panic traffics in giddy nonsense and unlikely perils. (Note the rapidly shrinking snowball.)

Zeitgeist Films

What works in five-minute bursts might seem exhausting at 75 minutes, because the figures, the action and the high-pitched voices flutter along at a hummingbird's pace. In fact, the film zips by so fast that the visual jokes run into each other like a freeway pileup; by the time you even think about laughing at one, another four or five squeal and crash right behind it. But once you get attuned to Patar and Aubier's bizarre wavelength, A Town Called Panic proves surprisingly compulsive, both for its moment-to-moment inventiveness and for the way it coaxes out the ADD kid in all of us.

Think of it as a matinee serial with dozens of cliffhangers: Can Horse climb back from Earth's core in time to make his first lesson with the fetching equine piano instructor? (And without opposable thumbs, mind.) Will the gang get catapulted home before a woolly mammoth knocks the giant mechanical penguin off the precipice? Can the diabolical sea creatures be stopped before they wall themselves in and dine for eternity on oversized waffles? These are the frivolous questions to which A Town Called Panic provides essential answers.

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