A Town Called Panic

A Town Called Panic (Panique au village) (2009)

A Town Called Panic (Panique au village) first published by EyeforFilm, 5 Oct 2010

For all its bric-à-brac simplicity, A Town Called Panic (Panique au village) has been around for a long time in numerous forms. Starting life in 1991 as Stéphane Aubier‘s graduation short, this rustic papier-mâché world of weird was revisited a decade later by Aubier and Vincent Patar (known collectively as Pic Pic André) in a series of acclaimed shorts that would eventually lead to a cult 20-episode television series for Canal+ in 2003.

After recently exposing their inimitable animation style to English viewers in an oddball advertising campaign for Cravendale Milk, Aubier and Patar have now given their beloved Town a full-length outing, which became in 2009 the first ever stop-motion feature to be officially selected for the Cannes Film Festival. Both a comic book and a children’s book set in the Town are also in the works, meaning that dysfunctional housemates Cowboy, Indian and Horse, not to mention their neighbours the irascible farmer Steve and his wife Janine, have all become a multi-media phenomenon.

A Town Called Panic

Cowboy and Indian plan to build a 50-brick barbecue as a last-minute birthday present for Horse, but when they accidentally order 50 million bricks, panic ensues, as not only the excess bricks but their newly rebuilt house go missing. The trio’s pursuit of the mysterious thieves leads them on a journey to the centre of the Earth, an encounter with mad scientists on the icy tundra, and a dive into a parallel universe inhabited by cheeky underwater frogmen. Will the Town be saved from various kinds of mass destruction? Will our intrepid friends ever get home? And will Horse ever make a date with sexy new music teacher Madame Longrée (voiced by Jeanne Balibar)?

Aubier and Patar animate their old-fashioned plastic models with little concern for proportion, perspective or logic, and the result is an anything-goes universe bounded only by the powers of their overactive, childlike imaginations.

The use here not only of toys, but of long outmoded toys, as well as the ‘traditional’ setting in an idyllic countryside, may all suggest a deep-seated nostalgia, but the filmmakers repeatedly unsettle such cosy notions through the sheer anarchy of their ideas, which they allow to run riot destroying all sense of reason or good taste in their wake. So A Town Called Panic is a truly postmodern concoction, where, along with the village’s properties, narrative norms are deconstructed brick by brick, as free associations and visual gags come thick and fast, offering a surreal jaunt through toy town. With all this carnivalesque chaos, however, comes a certain inconsequentiality, making the film hyperactively arresting, no doubt, but also strangely forgettable – and not a little exhausting even at a mere 78 minutes. Panic, apparently, works best in small bursts.

strap: Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar’s madcap stop-motion feature offers anarchic adventures in (and out of) toy town

© Anton Bitel