Monday, September 6, 2010

Monday Movie Day Reviews: A Town Called Panic

A Town Called Panic (2009): Watching A Town Called Panic elicits strong feelings of nostalgia. I remember sitting alone on the floor of in my bedroom, my parents somewhere downstairs, my imagination running wild as I played with toys for hours. I would create entire worlds using any toy or spare object within reach. Legos fought alongside G.I. Joe's against invading stuffed animals. Transformers defended a bed--or a desk, or a dresser, or a drum set--as the "base." Story arcs included outer space, time travel, and typically an epic battle. It was all very Toy Story.

While the Pixar films stir up the same nostalgia in me, A Town Called Panic is unique in its approach in that it very literally looks and feels like a six-year-old's toy chest come to life. The plot: It is Horse's birthday, and his roommates, Indian and Cowboy, must scramble to come up with a gift. (Horse, Cowboy, and Indian all look like they are figurines, including stands mounted to their feet to keep them upright.) Cowboy and Indian decide to build Horse a barbecue. They intend to order 50 bricks online, but through their own ineptitude purchase 50 million bricks instead. All the bricks are delivered. The barbecue is built. And the remaining 49,999,950 bricks are stacked on top of their house in an attempt to cover up their buffoonery from Horse.

This is only the beginning of what becomes an imaginative adventure that takes Horse, Cowboy, and Indian from their panic-filled town to the center of the earth to the middle of an ocean to the inside of a giant robotic penguin that lobs snowballs at unsuspecting victims. And while much of the film doesn't entirely make sense, it's a perfect illustration of one's creative abilities when one begins to think like a child again.

The film is aptly named, for every character screams and squeals the hilarious script in high-pitched tones. There are a lot of chase scenes. There is a lot of freaking out. There is a sequence where farm animals are launched as weapons at scuba-gear wearing villains. From the immensely creative minds of Belgian filmmakers Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar--Cowboy and Horse, respectively--it's difficult to think that this film came out in the same year as Avatar. The animated film is entirely in stop motion. The characters and sets appear to be created from the art supplies found in a kindergarten classroom. The whole thing is quite surreal. It's either the innovative work of a genius or the result of a bad acid trip. Or both. I've honestly never seen a film quite like it, and it's difficult for me to imagine many spiritual parallels here. It could be a big waste of your time. But I loved it. Maybe we need A Town Called Panic to remind us of the innate joy and imagination of childhood. When I watch my toddler son play with his toys, throwing them across the room, banging them together, howling with laughter, I smile. Even a few days after seeing A Town Called Panic, I'm still smiling.

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