I have a huge soft spot for stop-motion, I also love surrealist cinema and bonkers characters - so A Town Called Panic has been on my 'to watch' list for a while...
Starting in a rather unconventional house, home to a cowboy, a native Indian and a horse; life is never quite the same after a bodged online shopping order results in the delivery of 50,000,000 bricks - 499,999,950 more than was required to build a barbecue. The three housemates embark on a bizarre adventure which would make Jules Verne proud. From music lessons, to gigantic robotic penguins - A Town Called Panic is even more surreal than it sounds.
The characters are all small plastic toys, don't expect fluid claymation-style animation here, it's jerky and stilted - but that's all part of the charm and it has a superb hand-made quality to it. Just because it looks a bit amateur at times doesn't mean that this looks sub-standard, the backgrounds, towns and vehicles all look incredible and a fantastical level of creativity brings it all to life. This is based on a TV series and that sometimes seems obvious, instead of a single fluid story this does appear a little episodic - with sections merging into each other rather than an overall tale. The film lacks cohesion but because of the constant madness on-screen it never feels flat - just a bit odd!
This DVD looks surprisingly better than I ever expected, the colours are among the most vibrant I've ever seen on screen and as the film progresses through different settings, the contrast between 'sets' mean that this never loses any of its visual energy. Those unfamiliar with stop-motion film (shame on you!) may find this to be a bit crude to start with, but as your eye adjusts to the unique style you start to appreciate the more artistic elements and recognise the incredible level of detail. The film is French and the English subtitles are easy to read, the often frantic pace is easy to follow. My children also love this film, they are too young to take in all of the subtitles but the sheer madness on screen entrances them. I expected a good 'making of' documentary but the extras on the disk are a bit disappointing, however the 'La Fabrique de Panique' is a nearly hour-long documentary about the history of directors Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, it shows much of their early work as and follows their collaborative careers through to to completion of A Town Called Panic.
In a nutshell: Surrender to whimsy and lose yourself in the imaginations of two creative filmakers. As this is such a fractured film you can watch it stints, not all brains can take this in one go!