Belgium/France/Luxembourg – Optimum Releasing (15 November 2010)
An underdog of film festivals during 2009 and 2010 (making the ‘Official Selection’ for both Cannes and Toronto, and receiving a handful of awards at others), it’s akin to being locked in Hamleys after taking a lot of hallucinogenic drugs!
The film’s aesthetic is that of the small plastic figurines that many of us would recall from our childhoods, coming to life in this marvellously insane piece of claymation – a spin off of the original animated series of the same name (available on DVD, distributed by stop-motion stalwarts, Aardman, and also viewable on YouTube with an English dub under aardmansdarkside’s videos). The series was also the inspiration behind the equally crazed Cravendale adverts featuring a stop-motion cow, pirate, and cyclist mimicking the antics of Horse, Cowboy, and Indian.
The story revolves around the events of Horse’s birthday. Cowboy and Indian have failed to get Horse a present so they decide to build him a barbeque, only to accidentally order 50 million bricks instead of 50. Hiding the excess bricks by balancing them on top of the roof only makes matters worse when this destroys their home. Attempts to rebuild the house are thwarted when, under cover of darkness, their new walls are repeatedly stolen. The journey to catch the perpetrators and reclaim their abode takes them to the centre of the earth, across frozen tundra, and to a parallel underwater world.
The pace of the original series of five minute shorts is quite manic. Facing the prospect of what would essentially be 74 minutes of Cravendale adverts was a little daunting. But filmmakers Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar manage to draw out the pace without making it lag, binding the wired, weird, and wonderful series of events with a strong narrative accented with bouts of high-energy, and fantastically timed moments of sheer comic madness. The jokes are mostly clever, yet simple, visual gags, so the fact that the entire film is in French with English subtitles is not too much of a distraction or an eye strain. There are also a few subtle one-liners which serve to punctuate the oddball humour.
One notable criticism is that a few of the jokes from the original series are recycled (albeit quite well) and, for some, the entire affair might seem a little bit juvenile. Those who don’t quite get the humour of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, or aren’t too amused by the gloriously off-the-wall ramblings of comedians such as Eddie Izzard, should avoid this, as they’ll probably spend much of the film what on earth is going on. But fans of the surreal, particularly those who don’t expect anything arty, deep, or visually stunning, will be in for a absurdly funny hour-and-a-quarter filled with great punchlines, a wonderfully offbeat storyline, and even a giant mechanical penguin.
What’s great about owning this gem on DVD is the fact that each time you re-watch it you’ll discover an ingenious nuance that you’d previously missed, meaning that there are always some fresh laughs to be had each time you watch it and the film never gets dull. Panique au Village will have the child inside you giggling with glee, and the adult on the outside guffawing loudly. Anarchically ridiculous, riotous, and with pitch perfect laughs, it’s a divine cure for your January blues.
Official Website: www.atowncalledpanic.com