In a word, Stéphane Aubier’s and Vincent Patar’s A Town Called Panic can be described as “madcap”. The film– essentially an extended big-screen episode of the French duo’s children’s television program of the same name– has a giddy, uncontrollable energy and a bottomless supply of imagination that defies anything resembling standard narrative conventions in favor of, well, whatever comes to the minds of Aubier and Patar. From undersea barracuda chases to a massive, snowball-launching tank shaped like a penguin, A Town Called Panic is defined by a delightfully bonkers plot, an abundance of over-the-top images and ideas that are carefree in their playfulness, and an inviting sense of whimsy to go alongside its decidedly outrageous proclivities.
A Town Called Panic, much like the TV show, revolves around the adventures of Horse, Cowboy, and Indian, three friends sharing a home together in a quiet rural village with a microscopic population. As one can guess from the title, though, things don’t stay quiet for long, and through a series of mishaps wrought by Cowboy and Indian– they accidentally order fifty million bricks to build Horse a barbecue for his birthday– the house they inhabit with Horse is destroyed. Making matters worse, their attempts to rebuild their domicile in the following days are foiled, constantly, by a trio of odd little mermen bent on stealing their new home, leading to a mad chase from the village to the center of the Earth to catch the culprits and get their house back (and return in time for Horse’s piano lessons).
I realize that synopsis may sound strange. I can assure you wholeheartedly that it barely even scratches the surface. A Town Called Panic goes full-zany almost from the very start, once its beautifully animated opening credits give way to the show’s typical style of stop-motion animation. I’m not even taking into account that the main characters are a Horse, a Cowboy, and an Indian; that’s kooky and all, but it still feels right at home in a program geared toward an audience of children. It’s the stuff they get up to that gives the film its enchantingly nuts brand of charm. I’ve already mentioned the best stuff, but it should be stated that it’s not just the details but the course of the film’s events that make A Town Called Panic so unequivocally wacky.
And it all works. You’d think a movie in which an animated figurine smashes through a cup of coffee larger than he is to represent the action of drinking would suffer from categorical energetic overload of some kind or another, but A Town Called Panic approaches its childlike sense of harmless lunacy with such an earnestness that none of it feels like too much. I think the effect of watching media of this sort can be exhausting as an adult; this is a film that’s not at all about developing robust human characters or studiously, responsibly delivering plot to an audience. It’s about replicating the euphoria of an early morning sugar rush.
While it’s that very characteristic that gears A Town Called Panic primarily toward children, Aubier and Patar clearly wanted to create something that someone older than twenty-five could enjoy as well. For one thing, the film isn’t boring for a single moment– which arguably is just another element that’s representative of the audience it’s aiming for– but I think the greatest draw A Town Called Panic has for an older audience is heart. Stop-motion animation is notoriously difficult to work with successfully, and I think it says a lot about Aubier and Patar that they’re able to maneuver so easily within the medium. A Town Called Panic looks great, with a veneer of crudeness to the animation that surprisingly gives the movie a bizarre sense of vitality.
Alongside that liveliness exists an undeniable passion for the material. More than that, while watching A Town Called Panic I got the impression that Aubier and Patar don’t just care about what they’re doing, they believe in it– and they want us to believe in it, too. A Town Called Panic has all the tools it needs to disarm a viewer just based on the strength of its visual merits, but behind all of that is something really genuine and true. In the end, that might just be icing on the cake, though; ultimately, the film’s zany allure comes first and represents its best and most recommendable attribute, even if it’s nice to feel like there’s something more going on behind the scenes.