The insanely quirky “A Town Called Panic” is easily the best gift Belgium has bestowed on the movie business since Audrey Hepburn. Like a Monty Python skit on steroids, it basks in its own absurdity in chronicling the adventures of three plastic toy roommates – Horse, Cowboy and Indian – who manage to destroy just about everything they touch.
The insanely quirky “A Town Called Panic” is easily the best gift Belgium has bestowed on the movie business since Audrey Hepburn.
Weird seems too soft a word to describe what Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar have cooked up with their crudely sophisticated puppet show.
Like a Monty Python skit on steroids, it basks in its own absurdity in chronicling the adventures of three plastic toy roommates – Horse, Cowboy and Indian – who manage to destroy just about everything they touch.
Not that they don’t mean well. In fact, their actions are almost always motivated by love and friendship, even though they generally lead to calamitous results, like flattening their home and village, upending a massive mechanical penguin and rousting a lethal band of pointy-headed creatures from an underwater domicile.
The only question is will they survive long enough for us to find the answers to such burning questions as, will Horse (voiced by Patar) ever get it on with his mane squeeze, the fire-haired filly, Mrs. Longray (Jeanne Balibar); will Cowboy (Aubier) and Indian (Bruce Ellison) ever work out a mutually agreeable timeshare on their shower; and most importantly, will we ever stop laughing?
Not a chance on the latter. I literally had tears rolling down my cheeks through most of the third act, as Aubier and Patar offer up a nonstop succession of hilarious and increasingly bizarre predicaments for their characters to overcome.
As is the case with all great animated flicks, the comedy is rooted in the writing, especially the cheeky wordplay Aubier and Patar indulge in, such as Indian being told he “must be brave,” and Horse declaring he’s “stuck at a crossroads” while caught in traffic.
Then there’s that issue causing the jam-up: bricks. Yes, bricks – 50 million of them – all being delivered to the dim-witted trio’s front door.
Why all the bricks? Well, it seems it’s Horse’s birthday, which inspires Cowboy and Indian to build their four-legged pal a barbecue pit. But instead of ordering the 50 bricks necessary, they accidentally order a million times that amount.
Like a butterfly flapping its wings, the tons and tons of bricks set off a series of disastrous events that get stranger and funnier at every turn.
Ditto for the stop-motion animation. Simple yet inventively detailed, Aubier and Patar create a plethora of deliriously offbeat environments for their characters to traverse, be it the bottom of the sea, the center of the earth, a frozen Antarctic plain or Mrs. Longray’s music studio.
They then fill these scenes with marvelous sight gags, like the boys playing a hand of poker while descending to the pit of the earth aboard a slab of stone, or a sword fight involving swordfish, or Horse and Mrs. Longray romantically dancing on two hoofs under a mirror ball.
Clearly, someone was smoking something wacky when they came up with this stuff. But you’re glad that they did, because the result not only dazzles the eyes, it also blows your mind.
Patriot Ledger writer Al Alexander may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
A TOWN CALLED PANIC (Not rated.) In French with English subtitles. Featuring the voices of Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Jeanne Balibar. Written and directed by Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar. 3 stars out of 4.