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August 9, 2010 | by  | in Film |
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A Town Called Panic

A Town Called Panic
Director: Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar

Any kid of the 90s knows that when it came to Sunday afternoon television, the place to be was Kablaam!—V8 Supercars and Carters Gone Fishing couldn’t hold a candle to the wildly inconsistent animated sketch show. The only part of that show anyone really remembers, though, was Action League Now!, a series of stop-motion masterpieces about a group of action figures whose bizarre adventures were gallantly relayed to us by a booming narrator.

Their relation to A Town Called Panic? Ten years after the Action League’s heyday, the big screen plays host to their spiritual successors, a bonkers Belgian television series following the similarly bizarre adventures of three plasticine housemates; the immature Cowboy, big-thinking Indian, and straight man Horse. But, unlike ALN!, whose spin-off television show never achieved the heights it promised, A Town Called Panic blows the lid on convention and does whatever the hell it was, to brilliant effect.

The film is structured similarly to a Family Guy or late-era Simpsons episode, with a small storyline feeding into the narrative that takes up the rest of the film. Here, Cowboy and Indian have forgotten Horse’s birthday, and Indian, great thinker that he is, decides they will build Horse a barbeque. However, a screw-up with a coffee cup causes problems with their order of bricks, and things go hilariously downhill from there. Aubier and Patar then spend the next seventy minutes mining their unparalleled imagination and throwing all manner of shit at the screen to see what sticks, and it shows in the rapid-fire gag rate and crude, off-the-cuff animation.

Thankfully, their Airplane!-esque humour experiment works, and A Town Called Panic is home to some of the most brilliant comedy moments of the last twenty years. From barracuda chases to snowball-lobbing penguin robots, from farm animals playing instruments to the incorrigible, loud-mouthed STEVEN, Aubier and Patar complement their sharp, good-natured comedy with the kind of lunacy and surrealism that owes as much a debt to the aforementioned Airplane! as it does to David Lynch and Jan Svankmajer. All the elements of the film—the rough plasticine figures, the voice acting pitched at hysterical, the sublime physical comedy, the pastel-coloured settings—possess both a heart and a funnybone, and the slightness of the resultant product is in no way detrimental to its brilliance.

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