A Town Called Panic

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 29, 2015

This is a completely delightful, almost totally unhinged film.  It’s also a lovely demonstration of how powerful suspended disbelief can be, particularly when the tale-spinner does his part.  It never occurred to us to question or object, despite the patent preposterousness of the erstwhile story, or the ridiculous figure animation.  One of the reasons, of course, is that realism is overrated, or just one strategy among many.  This was doubtless a commercial vehicle, but it also doubles nicely as an example of how and why modernism works.  They completely pulverize the fourth wall, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any conceptual or relational plausibilities.

We were also happy to go along because this is so very imaginative, and so imaginatively executed.  What a great world!  What wonderful defiance of familiar physical and narrative laws.  What terrific design.  The repeated robberies are ridiculous, but they are also beautifully distributed, varied, advanced and resolved.  The centre of the earth section is fabulous.  Where on earth did those malicious mute scientists come from, with their juggernaut mechanized giant penguin?  (See?)  What about this music school?  One could go on and enumerate a ton of quirky delights.

The thing that makes this really great, though, is that the madness has firm roots.  There’s profligate imagination, but every flight of fancy is scrupulously and artfully rendered.  The inciting incident is hilarious—coffee and computers, and the tens column—but what follows has an admirable internal logic, or inevitability.  (This brick thing is actually a really nice analogy for the cheerful, well-meaning destructiveness of decent capitalism.)  Notice also that we’ve got a loving parent figure (horse) and his well-meaning, mess-making young charges (cowboy and Indian).  The details of their domesticity are funny for their unexpectedness or absurdity, but they’re also sweet for the way they suggest mutually developed patterns of affection, interaction and domestic management.

Similarly, notice the underplayed, palpable warmth of this little community.  Neighbours Jean-Paul and Janine are funny, but they’re also a slightly exaggerated and very wise example of an affectionate, mutually tolerant middle-aged couple.  Look at that great birthday party, the hint of savagery as alcohol threatens, and then the kindly resolution.  Horse and Madame Longrée’s ridiculous romance also has a pretty plausibility about it.  The conclusion is world-destroyingly violent, and it leads easily to reconciliation and restitution.  This might be because, in the end, every object and character here is a toy.  It’s Winnie the Pooh, or Hobbes, or H.C. Andersen’s animated objects.  This is imaginative play, superb scaffolding by gifted adults, followed by baths and prayers and being tucked in.