A Town Called Panic is what would happen if Nick Park went on a full on bender for two weeks, woke up in his modelling studio and set to work with a feverish, manic intensity. The characters and animation might feel familiar to anyone that’s seen those Cravendale Milk adverts as Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar cut their teeth on advertising and shorts before moving on to a full feature. The plot is almost impossible to recount with any kind of coherency but it involves the three friends of sensible Horse (actually a horse that has showers and plays the piano and everything) and the two dunderheads of Cowboy and Indian who live together as housemates.
Wanting to give Horse something for his birthday and deciding to build him a barbecue, Cowboy accidentally orders 50 million bricks off the internet which flattens their house. Sleeping on it, they wake up to find that their walls have been stolen by a sea monster and set off in hot pursuit in a journey that will see them end up in Atlantis, fight it out with a giant mechanical snowball-throwing penguin, watch a lobster play a xylophone and be chased by parachuting cows. Meanwhile Horse is trying to cultivate a romance with Madame Longrée, another horse who runs the local music school, but will he make it back from his adventure in time?
It’s possessed of a kind of frenetic energy that owes much to Terry Gilliam’s old Python cartoons but also the playfulness of something like Morph or Trap Door (or even Pingu for that matter). It’s refreshingly chaotic – there’s something incredibly satisfying about its immediacy, where it’s impossible to tell what might happen next.
Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar have created a film which is completely unlike anything else out there. It’s almost hard to believe that A Town Called Panic is all stop motion. The film feels so fresh, so stream of consciousness and so immediately playful that it’s doubly impressive that they’ve managed to achieve this in a medium which is famous for being agonisingly painstaking.
It’s amazing how much emotion can be wrung from simply plastic toys – the characters aren’t fully animated with a range of facial expressions that took millions of dollars and space age technology to make – they’re plastic figurines still attached to fixed green bases and the animation is jerky and stilted but it’s all the more lovable for that. It has knack of reminding you of childhood, when you didn’t need expensive gadgets, just a handful of miniature toys and all the imagination you could carry.
It’s almost like Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar wrote the first things that came into their heads, but A Town Called Panic benefits from its fast pace, its dazzling imagination and sense of all out fun. It may look like amateurish animation – there are certainly no Pixar-esque rendered fur or water effects, but in terms of anarchy, imagination and charm, A Town Called Panic is difficult to beat. Who wants a waffle?