Combustible Celluloid
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With: (voices) Stéphane Aubier, Jeanne Balibar, Nicolas Buysse, Véronique Dumont, Bruce Ellison, Christine Grulois, Frédéric Jannin, Bouli Lanners, Christelle Mahy, Eric Muller, Vincent Patar, Franco Piscopo, Benoît Poelvoorde, Alexandre von Sivers
Written by: Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar
Directed by: Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 75
Date: 05/21/2009

A Town Called Panic (2009)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Toys Will Be Toys

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The year 2009 was so filled with brilliant animated works that some writers declared it the 1939 of animation. Most of them were computer-generated, and some of them were in 3D. A few were beautifully hand-drawn, and a few others used stop-motion. Many of them were aimed at kids, and some others were for slightly older kids. A Town Called Panic, from Belgium and France, has to be the most unusual of the bunch. Made with stop-motion, the characters look like little toy figures with great lumps of flat plastic glued to their legs to help them stand up.

Horse (voiced by Vincent Patar), Cowboy (voiced by Stéphane Aubier) and Indian (voiced by Bruce Ellison) all live in the same house, and Horse is clearly the one in charge. (An interesting comment on traditional Western values? Perhaps, but this film has no time for comments.) For Horse's birthday, Cowboy and Indian decide to build him a barbecue, but wind up accidentally ordering a few million too many bricks, and demolishing the house. They try to build a new one, but the walls keep mysteriously disappearing, which leads to a bizarre adventure to the center of the earth and then under the sea.

The movie almost has a Napoleon Dynamite-type vibe; if you can tune into its quasi-juvenile mood, it can be a lot of fun. It probably has more in common with some of the quasi-surreal cartoons of Max and Dave Fleischer, particularly Betty Boop, or even Felix the Cat. Yet it also has a frantic/deadpan, stop-and-go pace reminiscent of Chuck Jones. It has the feel of a world that previously existed, and yet can be torn down and rebuilt at any time.

The animation is deceptively complex; it's meant to look like kids playing with dolls of slightly different sizes, but it's really a great deal more nuanced. The pace is fast and the dialogue is almost shouted, which can be a bit aggravating, but if you succumb and go for the ride, it's almost consistently amusing, if never quite laugh-out-loud funny.

The 2010 DVD release from Zeitgeist comes with a hi-def transfer (although there is no Blu-Ray release as of yet), a 52-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, video interviews with directors Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, deleted scenes, test shots, photos and other goodies from the studio vaults. Plus, as part of a contest, the filmmakers selected a new stop-motion animated short film for inclusion on the DVD: Obsessive Compulsive, created by a 17 year-old!

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