Zeitgeist Films // 2009 // 77 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // June 21st, 2010
"More terrifying than Psycho...More terrifying than The Towering Inferno...More romantic than Casablanca...More moving than March of the Penguins...More spectacular than Journey to the Center of the Earth..."
Panique au Village, known in English as A Town Called Panic, started with Belgian college students making egg carton villages. After all, beer gets boring (at least that's what Panique creators Stéphane Aubier et Vincent Patar said in the making-of). A student film followed, but it wasn't an A-plus project, so the village was forgotten for a while. Eventually, Aubier and Patar made a TV series. It did well, and Aubier's and Patar's idea grew again, into the movie A Town Called Panic. The creators say they almost had Aardman Animation, the stop-motion powerhouse behind Wallace & Gromit and the Serta sheep, involved. That didn't end up happening, so it's on the low-budget side. No reason for panic, though.
It's a stop-motion production starring toy figurines found in flea markets (they don't ask for residuals). It took around 1,500 figurines to make a movie, what with all the bending and adjusting the creators and their animation team did. The main characters are Horse, Cowboy, and Indian, which happen to be the figurines most often found at flea markets in Belgium. They share a house next to the farm run by Steven and Janine in a surreal rural village.
A birthday card for Horse surprises Cowboy and Indian. They've got to come up with a gift for him -- fast. Indian decides to build Horse a barbecue and goes online to order fifty bricks. When Cowboy sets a coffee cup down on the computer keyboard while he's ordering, the order grows to fifty million bricks, setting in motion a chain of events that sends the trio around the Earth.
Meanwhile, Horse falls for a beautiful equine music teacher and sets out to take piano lessons, but the disasters created by Cowboy and Indian may keep him from his class.
How would I describe A Town Called Panic? "Strange" is the word that comes to mind first and often, as undersea creatures turn up in a pond on a neighbor's farm, Cowboy and Indian decide to put all those bricks on the roof of their house, and mad scientists set in motion a giant mechanical penguin, to mention but a few of the situations. It's not just the situations, but the sight of toy figures moving about in the herky jerky manner of stop-motion animation that gave me that impression. I found myself smiling a lot, even though it wasn't laugh-out-loud funny.
Horse is relatively serious-minded, keeping Cowboy and Indian from being too irresponsible. He'd rather take piano lessons than rebuild their house after a catastrophe, but he's steady on the job, while Cowboy and Indian would rather watch TV or play ping-pong.
Although there's lots of chatter in A Town Called Panic, the creators cite Jacques Tati as an influence. Fans of the Mr. Hulot movies, or earlier silent comics like Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, are probably the ones who will warm to Panic. Sight gags and slapstick are found in abundance. They come at a pace which the critics quoted in the making-of say is slower than in the original TV series, but it's still pretty darn fast.
The music ranges from classical to rock, and it all sounds good. The hi-def picture is also solid.
Since it's popular in Europe, the stateside release of A Town Called Panic has a lot of extras. "La Fabrique de Panique" takes 55 minutes to show the making of the movie from all angles. There are also interviews by topic with the creators, but each snippet is very brief, and there's no "play all" feature. You'll also find deleted scenes, test shot comparisons, a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, and a trailer.
Zeitgeist adds a very brief short called "Obsessive Compulsive," a stop-motion animation created by 13-year-old Isabela Dos Santos about an obsessive compulsive horse. It won a contest sponsored by Zeitgeist and judged by Stéphane Aubier et Vincent Patar. Not bad for a debut.
If you don't want your kids to see characters drinking alcohol, stay away from A Town Called Panic. Otherwise, there's not much to offend, and the really stupid stuff that Cowboy and Indian do is absurd enough that even small kids should realize it's not real. Kids also might be distracted by the subtitles, although understanding the French dialogue probably isn't vital to enjoying the movie. The DVD cover also points to "some mild bad language in French."
Since the series hasn't aired in the States, I'd have liked to have seen Zeitgeist include an episode of the series. There are clips in the extras, but it still feels like a missing piece.
Just think of what you could have accomplished if you'd made egg carton villages in college instead of drinking. It's a nice little animated comedy full of sight gags, and it'll tide you over until the last Jacques Tati script hits the big screen.
Not guilty. Just be careful when ordering bricks.
Review content copyright © 2010 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 77 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Short Film
* Photo Gallery