Cowboy and Indian and Horse share a house. When Cowboy and Indian realize they’ve forgotten Horse’s birthday, they decide to order bricks off the internet so they can build him an outdoor barbecue. They make a small mistake during the ordering process, though, which results in 50 million bricks being delivered to their house.
So begins one of the most effortlessly likable films of the year, “A Town Called Panic,” which played both Fantastic Fest and AFI Fest in the last few weeks, and which is now in the mix as a possible candidate for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars this year. I hope it ends up as one of the five nominees. It won’t win, but that nomination could get a whole lot of people to take a chance on the film when Zeitgeist Films releases it for a limited theatrical run, and that would be a very good thing indeed.
The film by Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, based on a charming series of shorts they created for TV, is pretty much a delight from end to end, whimsical and silly and delightfully strange. It’s stop-motion animation, but very limited. It looks like a bunch of toys by different manufacturers and of different sizes, all dumped together at random. You remember the moment in “Where The Wild Things Are” where Max is telling his mother the story about the vampire whose teeth fell out? And the way his story lurches from event to event without anything like a conventional narrative to hold it all together? That was one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of the way children invent stories as they play, and “A Town Called Panic” is the same sort of thing, a film that feels like it unfolds with the purity of a child playing, and the effect is intoxicating. So often, filmmakers are locked into certain narrative shapes, so even the most skilled of filmmakers can fall into the trap of predictability. Here, anything can and does happen, and it’s incredibly winning as a result.
I love how Horse struggles with his affection for Mrs. Longree, the lovely lady horse who teaches music to all the local kids. I love Gerard and the rest of the crazy underwater people who invade the small town. I love the way Cowboy and Indian and Farmer Steven all tend to shout all of their dialogue. I love the way some of the toys are the right size for the characters, while others are completely wrong and oversized. The film’s got a lovely, gentle sense of humor, and it would be ideal to share with any member of the family, young or old.
I heard one person at Fantastic Fest describe this as “YAAAAAAAAAAY! The Movie,” and someone else said they wished they could just have a channel that played new adventures of these characters 24 hours a day. I understand both sentiments. It is the rare film that makes you smile from the moment it begins, and that seems so genial about it. “A Town Called Panic” is one to hunt down as soon as possible, and I guarantee you’ll be glad if you do.
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