Foreign films generally tend to be far more experimental than typical Hollywood films and this trend even extends into animation. The Belgian produced stop-motion film A Town Called Panic (2009) follows in this trend with a menagerie of quirky characters and a plot that escalates from weird to completely nonsensical. All the characters are toy figurines. Cowboy, Indian, and Horse share a house in a rural town. For Horse’s birthday Cowboy and Indian attempt to surprise their friend with a brick made barbeque but end up ordering a million times as many bricks needed. This sets off a chain of events that has the three traversing through frozen tundra, the center of the earth and an underwater residence. The comedic style can be compared to such shows as Monty Python or even The Mighty Boosh, but it utilizes full advantage of the freedoms given by animation taking the lunacy to an entirely different level. The film’s lighthearted nature and surreal comedy combined makes the absolute surrender of disbelief a requirement for an enjoyable viewing. Anyone who can afford that level of surrender is sure to have a roaring good time.
Pacing: 7 out 10
The pacing of the film is very manic but considering the 75 minutes running time it’s understandable. The film attempts to squeeze what is easily two hours of plot in a small window which while overall it’s not too much of a negative, grows somewhat tedious as the film moves along. Overall it wraps up the story nicely and certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome. Perhaps a few more minutes might have made the film a little easier to digest.
Acting: 7 out 10
Judging the acting in a film like this is rather difficult. By its very nature nothing is to be taken too seriously and while the characters respond naturally enough considering the wild events of the film, none of the characters really stands out performance wise. This is also a result of the dry wit of the film making it nigh impossible for any of the characters to really inject much personality aside from the hyper Indian, the soft-spoken Cowboy, and the stoic and firm Horse.
Content: 9 out of 10
Various toy animals, underwater sea creatures, volcanic eruptions, and scientists with super strength doing research in the frozen tundra, the film is bursting with imaginative characters and situations. The subplot of Horse constantly having to apologize to Janine, a mare who teaches piano, for missing out on her lessons adds a sentimental twist on a film spewing with craziness. Few films have evoked this sort of freedom of expression while still conveying a sense of narrative rhythm.
Overall: 8 out 10
A Town Called Panic is immensely funny and adds to a long legacy of surrealist filmmaking with origins in Central Europe. It certainly isn’t a film a casual viewer of animation would necessarily enjoy, but its light-heartedness makes it more accessible to a general audience. While it may be manic the characters do have realistic intentions, surrounded in larger than life situations. Fans of Monty Python style comedy should find this enjoyable. Aside from the style the film practically plays out like one of Terry Gilliam’s cut-out animations. It’s a film that simply cannot be taken seriously, but that’s okay because it’s hilarious.
– Zaid Al-Kazem