Review: A Town Called Panic

· Joanthan Poritsky

A Town Called Panic StillIn my bloggy world I like keep up a certain level of decorum. Throwing in three-plus syllable words I find in my thesaurus, needlessly sticking to the New York Times style guide, and always listing at least three things if ever I need to describe an idea are all tactics I use to keep readers taking me seriously. However, every once in awhile it is necessary to shed such formalities and let bare a more persoanl reaction. Ruminating on Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar’s _A Town Called Panic _has presented just such a time. I must speak honestly with you, and decorum just might not hold up for a film as silly as this.

I’m sorry, but I don’t get it. This film is oozing international buzz and everyone else seems to be on the inside of the Panic joke. Most notably it holds the title as the only feature-length stop-motion film selected for the Cannes Film Festival. Not since The Hangover have I felt like such an intellectual outsider. There is no question that A Town Called Panic is a fun film. It moves at about a mile a minute as our heroes, Cowboy, Indian and Horse, navigate a stop-motion world filled with toys found in every big kids toolbelt. Our three heroes go on a zany adventure when someone starts stealing their house night after night, no matter how many times they rebuild. Always getting into trouble is the name of the game for these three.

The film isn’t lacking any quirk. Nerds of the world will note that when Indian orders bricks on the internet, he is using an animated version of Google’s Chrome browser, certainly a nice polish for a group of misfits such as this. (It’s a third place browser) The world of the film is seemingly idyllic, yet the village has that name: Panique. Everyone is a little high strung. Look guilty of a crime and Policeman might just throw you in jail without a trial. Certainly, there are a few veiled political statements in this film, but none cleverly placed enough to snatch my heart.

I will say that children really will love the way this film is put together. However, American parents might not be so keen to take their kids to a film with a few mildly naughty subtitles, let alone subtitles at all. The more high maintenance probably won’t be able to deal with the film’s extreme cartoon violence, which has gone the ways of the dinosaurs for the most part. For that I will give these filmmakers a lot of credit. Children’s humor, at least in this country, has been sterilized so much that fart jokes is almost all they have left. Aubier and Patar certainly have a leg up on treating children with a great deal of respect, at least comedically.

Perhaps I am too grown up for this sort of thing, which isn’t as fact I’d easily admit. It’s easy to write the film off as too simple, or myself as being too cynical, but I think there is more at work. I think my issue is that I have seen so many iterations of this kind of film, regardless of whose idea it was first, that I have grown weary as an audience member. From “Robot Chicken” to “South Park” to “Spongebob Squarepants”, most of the subversiveness and quirkiness of animation has been used on me. And so I can’t figure out how to make heads or tails of this film. I was hoping to have my socks knocked off, and that just didn’t happen.

So I need you to explain it to me. I need someone, everyone, to help me out in the comments. I want to like this film. I want to join in the party, but I just can’t figure out what is getting everyone so hot and bothered about it. Care to share?

A Town Called Panic opens today in NYC at Film Forum.