Thursday, February 4, 2010
KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando reviews the animated film "A Town Called Panic"
There’s a new animated film from Belgium that has no computer generated effects and no 3D. Instead "A Town Called Panic” (opening February 5 at Landmark's Ken Cinema) uses little plastic toys and stop motion animation.
As technology gets better and better, some artists find inspiration and freshness in more old school techniques. So the recent "Fantastic Mr. Fox" employed a stop motion animation style reminiscent of the old "King Kong" movie. Similarly, "A Town Called Panic" employs a similar painstaking stop motion filming technique and the animated objects are little plastic toys. The whole thing has a do-it-yourself quality, as if it were made by some hyperactive, attention deficit disorder kid on a sugar high playing in his bedroom.
The plot of "A Town Called Panic" only matters in terms of it being a catalyst for a series of adventures. The story involves three characters: Cowboy, Indian, and Horse, and involves a birthday gift gone awry. There’s an online ordering snafu (50 bricks for a BBQ turn into 50 million) that leads to a wild journey through an underwater world (with the most delightful frogmen/creatures) and to a frozen tundra where mad scientists have invented a giant mechanical penguin designed to throw snowballs across the globe.
"A Town Called Panic" is animated fare that both kids and adults can enjoy. It's probably not aimed at kids who like Disney cartoons but more for the ones who watch "South Park," "Family Guy," and anime. The film thrives on chaos and non-sequitors worthy of the Marx Brothers or Monty Python. Although it's never as verbal sophisticated or witty. It boasts a cruder humor and a wacky malleability in which things can be as easily destroyed as rebuilt.
Filmmakers Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar serve up a hilarious and intense 75 minutes that reveals continual inventiveness. For example there’s a coffee pot with three spouts for the three roommate friends and amazing clutter in the mad scientists lab. Plus it’s a world where the rules of reality don’t apply. So there’s slapstick violence that can level a town but there there’s a whimsical simplicity to the way the town can regenerate itself almost as quickly. Some criticize the low tech animation style but I find it appropriate for the material. The animation is deliberately and charmingly crude in the same way that "South Park's" animation is crude -- both works look like they were made by kids and both have the energy, freshness, and crassness of that youthful point of view.
The film is their first feature and it’s a spin off of their TV shorts. About halfway through their energy lags for a bit before picking up again. But all in all it’s a delight. It’s like watching clever, slightly twisted children at play.
"A Town Called Panic" is in French with English subtitles and is unrated.
You can also listen to our discussion (and disagreement) on Film Club.
Critics Beth Accomando and Scott Marks discuss "A Town Like Panic" on the KPBS Film Club with Maureen Cavanaugh.
Companion viewing: "Fantastic Mr, Fox," "South Park," "Hardware Wars"