A Town Called Panic (Panique au village) -- Film Review

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CANNES -- There's really very little to say about this film beyond that it's absolutely brilliant. First-time Belgian feature-length filmmakers Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar, prodigiously gifted, have come up with something truly special here. Though Cannes has begun to notice animation in recent years ("Shrek") and even chose the delightful "Up" for this year's opening film, "A Town Called Panic" is the first ever stop-motion animated feature film included in the official selection.

The main characters are Cowboy, Indian, and Horse, who improbably live together in a town called Panic. They are plastic toys, twisted into impossible positions, which rest on little stands, and it's this fact that provides a great deal of the film's novelty. Various bizarre and even surrealistic things happen to them, as they journey to the center of the earth, get stuck in something that resembles the North Pole, and discover a parallel universe of water that is populated by pointy-headed bad guys who wear diving suits and goggles and look really, really weird.

The jokes come fast and hard, and part of the humor arises from the American accent (in French) and the American slang that the characters use. But nothing much will be lost if an enterprising U.S. distributor jumps on this property and records an even funnier English-language soundtrack that won't require reading subtitles.

Even better are the imaginative visuals that are paraded non-stop before the viewer's dazzled eyes. The filmmakers have also solved the usual problem of full-length animation by producing an insane level of continuous action and a constant change of fascinating locales. Even if you don't normally like animation, you should give this film a look.

Section: Out of Competition
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