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.

In accordance with MIFF (Melbourne International Film Festival)  and though not strictly associated with- more something of a timely selection in lieu of- MIAF (Melbourne International Animation Festival), Sunday’s special preview screening of Komaneko – The Curious Cat (2006) at ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) was a fantastic first look at an intelligent and well observed Japanese children’s film whose title character rivals Hello Kitty when it comes to cute.

Komaneko is a 60 minute stop-motion animation that consists of five short segments, each of which operates on two clear and decipherable levels; as a lesson in the virtues of patience for children and filmmakers alike.

First Step:  

Komaneko wants to make a short (self-reflexively stop-motion animation) film starring his/her (Komaneko is gender ambiguous) soft toys. Storyboarding the scene during the title sequence, Komaneko then embarks upon creating an appropriate mise-en-scene. So, “the first step” is the necessary though not entirely dynamic process of creating and staging; props, set design, lighting, wardrobe, and camera angles. The First Step is the shortest in the series, but affords its viewers with a suitable level of understanding and anticipation for the creative processes and obstacles that follow.

Hands On Camera:

As not all processes of filmmaking, or any creative project for the matter, rest solely upon the omniscient control of their directors/creators, a degree of allowance must be made for what could be called “capturing the moment” or “artistic accident” within the context of creative output. Through an amusing anecdotal sequence that sees Komaneko attempt (and fail) to capture natural occurences of beauty and excitement; from a flower blooming to a ghost ghouling the often frustrating element of artistic endeavour is exemplarily explicated.

Koma and Radi-Bo:

The third section focusses on the simultaneous and contradictory reliance upon and enablement of technology, with specific attention paid to the physical toil that is involved in successfully controlling and manipulating it to a positive end. Just like their respective parents, Komaneko and his/her friend Radi-Bo (also gender ambiguous) toil with (not against) technology for a creative outcome. From a malfunctioning disco dancing robot to a projector that’s jammed, Komaneko and Radi-Bo learn that it takes sweat and tears (quite literally) to create a successful item for artistic entertainment.

Radi-Bo’s Battle:

Section four sees Komaneko’s friend Radi-Bo battle with (an)Other – one of the most difficult battles of all, be it in filmmaking or life more generally, getting along with Others and resolving conflict with one another is no simple feat. Radi-Bo is flying a toy plane and there is a certain bird who continually sabotages his/her recreational activities. Radi-Bo learns to deal with the interference to his/her recreational/creative endeavours through an agreement to work together. Although it seems, for the inconvenience caused, it is not without something of a retainer for revenge!

Real Friends:

The final chapter in Komaneko – The Curious Cat involves the most sought after filmmaking technique, and life skill, of all: the search for the Truth. To show something true and honest is the noblest of quests for any filmmaker and certainly when considering theories of spectatorship and photography (see Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida and Chirstian Metz’ The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema, to name but two of many great sources on the topic) it is indeed a significant point of contention within schools of visual/film theory and for viewers alike. Indeed the search for the truth in life more widely is too riddled with issues, but as Komaneko soon discovers, it is the search that ultimately rewards and validates its seeker. Sweet and heart-warming, an exemplary exercise in animation, Komaneko is an absolute joy to watch.

Komaneko – The Curious Cat screens exclusively at ACMI Friday July 2 – Tuesday July 6 daily at 1pm.