Stop-motion animation gets a bit ignored, it seems. Aside from, say, reruns of Rankin-Bass Christmas specials and Gumby, it’s only Adult Swim keeping it alive in the US with stuff like Robot Chicken and Moral Orel. But, yet again, the Belgians come to the rescue with A Town Called Panic, a wonderful, whimsical film for all ages (more or less — a couple appearances of the word “bastard” in the subtitles might keep it off Nickelodeon).
The title actually makes the film sound different or more sinister than it is — I’m not quite sure where it comes from, other than that, well, the setting is a fictional town, and that town is named “Panic”. (Or, “Panique”, since it’s in French and all.) Town-names aside, though, it’s a friendly place. The stars are Horse, Cowboy and Indian who are each a toy of a horse, a cowboy, and an American Indian. It’s not really a commentary or anything — Cowboy and Indian are best friends (but also kind of childlike and foolish), where Horse acts as a stern but loving father. How the arrangement came to be is left to the imagination, but really, how could it be anything but? OF COURSE a cowboy, Indian and talking horse are going to live together as a family! Their neighbors are the shouty-but-nice farmer neighbor Steven and his wife Janine, the Policeman, and the Postman.
The film’s episodic in nature, but the episodes end up flowing between each other very well — things follow… not necessarily logically, but in a good way. It’s very much in the dream-logic sort of way. The film opens with Horse’s birthday, so Cowboy and Indian decide to build him a barbecue, but accidentially order too many bricks. After Horse’s birthday party, the extra bricks destroy their house, which leads to the main thrust of the film — building and rebuilding and dealing with the mystery of the stolen walls. And, of course, there’s a love-story too, with Horse and Mrs. Longray, a fellow horse who teaches Steven’s farm animals at the music school.
The film is very well done, and deceptively simple; it looks like the characters are all toys (again, like Robot Chicken), but they’re actually made of movable clay — the toys and the green platforms they stand on are just affectations. There’re really cool special effects, too, that remind me much of Stephane TV in The Science of Sleep — and, of course, any comparison to Michel Gondry is always intended as a compliment, particularly when it comes to anything visual. The storytelling is very enjoyable and, well, the film is a delight. It’s only about 75 minutes long, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome, but I would definitely be up for a sequel. The adventures of Horse, Cowboy and Indian are so charming, it’s sad to leave Panic.