A Town Called Panic: Animated Whimsy From Belgium

Animals and people are all jumbled up in this hyperactive Belgian puppet animation—as in Panic's central ménage of Cowboy, Indian, and Horse. The filmmakers, Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, show little regard for scale and less for convention. Cowboy (Aubier) is a screeching hysteric and Horse (Patar) is a slow-moving romantic hero who longs to play the piano and carries a torch for the local music teacher, a mare with an orange mane and sultry voice (Jeanne Balibar). Cowboy, Indian, and Horse share a house that sinks to the center of the Earth, when Indian mistakenly orders a million times as many bricks as necessary to build a barbecue for Horse's birthday. Actually, that makes the narrative seem almost linear. Panic, which has more strident colors and less synopsizable action than a year's worth of comic-book adventures, embodies a sensibility that might be termed "extreme quirk." The movie has the manic whimsy of the dollhouse scenes in Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep and is even closer to child's play—noisy, overexcited, and very pragmatic.

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