Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Film Review | A Town Called Panic (2010)

The last time someone decided to turn a television advertising campaign into a feature film, we got Johnny English - fairly potent proof that using a character and concept that works for thirty seconds to sell you something is not the most advisable route to cinematic success. I would be hard pressed to pick a more recent advertising campaign that I would see as holding potential in this area - maybe you could get Richard Curtis to string together the entire story of the BT Family, adding in plenty of middle-class heterosexual humour and a character whose main purpose is to swear a lot in places where jokes should be. I digress. I'm sure a campaign that would most likely not be too near the top of your list is the one for Cravendale milk. Not the one about cats with thumbs (although that could hold the potential for a genuinely creepy surreal horror), but the ones before that which featured animated farm animal toys. You know, these ones.

Well, that's essentially what A Town Called Panic is. To be fair, writers and directors Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar created the concept as a TV series years before being approached by Cravendale, but it's the adverts that are likely to be most British viewers' first thought when watching the film.

A Town Called Panic follows the misadventures of Horse, Cowboy and Indian who live together in the eponymous settlement. We start off with Cowboy and Indian building a last-minute birthday present for Horse with disastrous consequences, but there's no chance you'll be able to predict where things go from there.

The film works about as well as you'd expect. The animation is charming and generates some genuine humour through its simple execution. I enjoyed the quirky, jerky motion of Horse, Cowboy, Indian, their friends and acquaintances, never once tiring of the chosen style. It also fits well with the surreal, slapstick, non-sequitur style of humour. Think Monty Python meets Wallace & Gromit via The Young Ones and you're on the right lines. It's also worth noting that, even though the entire film is in French with English subtitles, none of the humour seemed to be lost because of this.

If you're expecting a film with a definite narrative, A Town Called Panic is not it. Just when you think you've got a handle on where the story might be headed, something else turns up completely out of left field. It's not going to be to everyone's cup of tea, as there will undoubtedly be viewers who dislike the lack of a strong narrative thread. Don't try to take the film on anything much more than face value either. This isn't deep meaningful social commentary, but that's pretty much the point of it. It's ridiculous entertainment that at times is ridiculously entertaining.

Despite the animation and humour working well for the majority of the film, even at just over seventy minutes in length there were times when A Town Called Panic felt overstretched. The original TV series episodes were only around five minutes long, so making the concept work at feature length was always going to be a challenge for Aubier and Patar. They manage it for the most part, but there are parts where proceedings have been padded out a little too much. That said, the execution is far more success than failure and there are at the very least three or four laugh-out-loud moments.

There really isn't anything else out there like A Town Called Panic, so that in itself warrants giving it a look. If you like your humour structured and multi-layered, this may not be the film for you. But as a surreal take on animated humour which sets out purely to entertain through its silliness and unpredictability, you could do an awful lot worse. Anway, I'm off to the fridge. I suddenly have a hankering for a large glass of milk.


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