This completely wacky 75-minute claymation puppetoon animated feature from Belgian directors Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar is hilarious, gloriously inventive, and basically impossible to classify in tradition genre terms. Based on a cult TV series of the same name (Panique au village in its original French, which conveys a slightly different idea to its English title), the film’s three main characters (‘played’ by plastic figurines) are a cowboy and an (American) Indian, and a talking horse—named, naturally, Cowboy, Indian and Horse.
Shot in 260 days in a studio on the outskirts of Brussels, the film apparently utilised as many as 1500 plastic toy figurines and is less a narrative than a series of abstract, crazy incidents: Cowboy and Indian want to build Horse a brick barbeque for his birthday, which they almost forgot—but they accidentally order billions of bricks and destroy their little two-storey house. Meanwhile, Horse plucks up the courage to talk to Madame Jacqueline Longrée, the music teacher at the local school who he has a crush on.
As they’re rebuilding the house, Cowboy and Indian notice the walls keep disappearing; tracking down the thieves, they’re led on a cross-country journey that leads them down a rabbit hole to the earth’s core—where they find the pointy-headed wall thieves, who turn out to be submarine-dwelling amphibians that kind of look like the sand people from Star Wars.
In between, they take a wrong turn and get lost in an arctic wasteland where a giant Pingu-like robot on caterpillar wheels houses three mad scientists intent on covering the world in snow, and are attacked by a huge woolly mammoth. They end up under the sea, where they discover their house has been rebuilt and is hanging upside-down like a stalactite, and are pursued by (and dance along to Lightning Beat-Man’s “I Wanna Be Your Pussycat” with) a bunch of spiky-toothed bright-orange barracuda.
Whether the off-the-wall humour is exacerbated by the characters’ fast-talking French, I’m not sure, but this is definitely the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in ages.
A Town Called Panic is out now on DVD through Madman; the disc has a 52-minute making-of featurette among other special features.