Comfortable and Furious

A Town Called Panic

I have no idea what I just saw. Normally, an intentionally incomprehensible film would drive me to apoplexy, but A Town Called Panic is no ordinary meander. You will pass through several phases as you watch the film:

1. Disappointment “What the fuck is this?”

2. Delight “Oh, this is fucking funny.”

3. Confusion “What, what the fuck is this?”

4. Out of body experience “Fuck.”

The viewer is forced to constantly move the goalposts in terms of how they view and understand the film, then abandon the pitch altogether. This is a story in which a cowboy, Indian, and a horse work to recover from the destruction of their house after a birthday party involving 30 million bricks, escape the center of the Earth, evade a giant robot penguin, fight fish people and ultimately return horse to his music classes. It makes less sense than the above synopsis, and this is one of the many strengths of this agreeably weird Belgian creation. The claymation work is irredeemably cheap, the voice acting awful, the plot nonexistent, and you could not be happier about the finished product. Though nowhere near as clean or technically exemplary as the work of Aardman animation (Shaun the Sheep, Wallace & Gromit), A Town Called Panic shares a relentlessly clever thought process and  a hilarious penchant for upping the ante. Panic is wonderfully surreal and works with a dreamlike flow of ideas that leads nowhere special, and you are glad to be along for the ride.

There is likely a series of subtexts to be gleaned from the action, but around the time the fish men attacked with crossbows firing swordfish, then were repelled by a sustained trebuchet battery of pigs and cows, I was utterly lost in any attempt at interpretation. This is like what kids do when they own only a few action figures from several different toy sets, and must find a way to shoehorn them together on the same battlefield. I always found it difficult to explain why Optimus would need to partner with GI Joe’s conventional weapons, but then, logic is the least useful tool when you are aggressively wasting time. So it is with stuff like this, the purest of entertainments from fertile minds. I always found it interesting that CGI heavy films from Hollywood found a way to do nothing interesting with technology that literally makes anything possible. Clash of the Twats, GI Joe, and Transformers were unified in being depressingly predictable. Meanwhile, claymation, with all of its inherent limitations yields a work that is timeless by being fearlessly inventive and insane beyond regard.

This is the first movie of the year that would be appropriate for any age of child with the bright colors and rapidly moving objects, adults with its clever sight gags and subtle jokes, drunk or high teenagers who will be, like, totally blown away, and hateful misanthropes who will be seduced by its total lack of guile. Very few works fill this tricky niche of childhood delight and stoner humor (Bugs Bunny cartoons and The Muppet Movie also leap to mind). There is nothing else to say, this unique and uniquely fucked up movie is guaranteed a spot near the top of my year-end list. In a way, this film was reassuring, in that works like A Town Called Panic can still be created in an age of increasing homogeneity in the cinema. Well, that and seeing the Laws of Cartoon Thermodynamics still hold true.