In the new stop-motion animation film A Town Called Panic, a horse named Horse, a cowboy named Cowboy and an Indian – of the Native American variety – named Indian all live together in a small town. They bicker about who gets the shower first, celebrate the arrival of the daily mail and, despite getting on each other’s nerves, are clearly the best of friends. Unfortunately, Cowboy and Indian have forgotten that it’s Horse’s birthday. Instead of buying him yet another in an array of whacky caps, the troublesome pair decide to make Horse a barbecue. Buying some much needed bricks from an online store, Cowboy and Indian accidentally order more than the 50 bricks needed, leading to a nearly endless chain of supply trucks delivering 50 million bricks. What the strange duo do with the extra building supplies will lead all three pals to the center of the Earth, force them to do battle with a gang of s scientists who live in a gigantic robot penguin and maybe even don a Santa Claus outfit.
A Town Called Panic is not your normal animated movie. Written and directed by the French duo Stephane Aubier and Vincent Pata, this a deliberately cheap looking, thoroughly strange picture, that comes off as a drunken cocktail of “Looney Tunes,” Monty Python and Michel Gondry. There is inspired absurdity around every corner of this movie. The human characters largely have flat, classic toy solider bottoms, with their legs attached to a wide base. When not dancing or climbing, the people of this town shuffle along with bewildered determination.
Cowboy, Indian and Horse, along with their neighbors and the strangers they meet along the way, are all extreme in their motions. They have either never been angrier in their life (a farmer disgusted by his damaged tractor hauls every last one of his livestock out of the barn to witness this heinous transaction) or on the highest of highs (with most characters laughing in a manner that resembles a little boy whose discovered the pleasures of helium balloons for the first time).
Aubier and Pata keep a frantic, wild pace through out, and in many filmmakers hands, this would get old quickly. Thankfully, the lunacy never plays for the same gag repeatedly, nor does it rely on out-of-date pop culture references for a giggle. This is a world where mammoth waffles can be bought in vending machines, cows parachute from the sky and donkeys turn out to be surprisingly good drummers. The entire concoction isn’t shooting for some deeper resonance in the realm of Pixar or Studio Ghibli. A Town Called Panic merely wants to make you laugh, and it succeeds at doing so with ease, falling into that rarest of categories in which kids and adults will laugh at the same joke, for the same reason.
A Town Called Panic opens exclusively at the Varsity Theatre today.