An Animation Called Ace

July 5, 2010

If you ever wondered what your toy figurines might be like on crack, then wonder no more. Panique au Village (A Town Called Panic, 2009) is a high energy, dynamic little gem of a film about the dwellers of small rural village – Panique – and their interaction as a community which relies wholly upon causal events motivated entirely by farce.

Originally a series of five-minute episodes shown in blocks of fifteen to thirty minutes on television, the Belgium stop-motion claymation animation distributed by Aardman certainly makes a decent spinoff that successfully sustains its seventy-five minute feature-length run time.

The protagonists of the picture are Coboy (Cowboy), Indien (Indian) and Cheval (Horse), the three of whom live together with a dynamic something like The Odd Couple (1968), only with Mr Ed (1961-1966) thrown into the mix. Introducing its characters one by one, the film opens with individual house visits from the postman; the character who distributes and links the townsfolk to the outside world; a world shown clearly in the title sequence to be distinctly separate and apart from Panique, its form of animation one-dimensional and hand drawn; Panique a myriad of mad stop-motion claymation figurines, tangible and malleable in the first instance. After the characters have been introduced, the “story” begins.

Coboy and Indien have forgotten Cheval’s birthday and, as they panicking (though with purpose and apparent method) go about ordering 50 bricks to make him a BBQ, things begin to go awry. Their order, accidentally for 50 million bricks, arrives in time but its unnecessary and awkward excess soon ensconce their home and sets in motion a ludicrous set of causal problems beginning with the sinking of their house. What follows is a highly imaginative and amusing – almost anecdotal – account of the rebuilding of their home and, through that, the reinforcement of both the all important sense of community that the film is predicated upon as well as the entertainingly ironic central thread that panic and instinctual reaction which come from that community-first ethos set in motion the poorly thought out issues that ensue.

With everything you could possibly want from an animated feature; a giant penguin-mobile that throws massive snowballs at unsuspecting targets just for shits and giggles, operated by lazy, juvenile scientists (whose churlish sensibility juxtaposed against exceptional skill no doubt stands in for creators Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar); a central love story founded upon a shared passion for beautiful music; and unabashed though untranslated comical expletives that appear in what is supposedly a children’s film. Ultimately, it all comes down to one question: is there anything funnier than a stupidly high-pitched voice standing in for a claymation cowboy with ridiculously red lips screaming to excess, “Où est Cheval? Où est Cheval? Oh, merde!” My answer: I don’t think so. Any opportunity you get to see this spectacular animation, make sure you do it because it’s a real rare, raw pleasure.

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