Sunday, December 13, 2009

Don't PANIC! But do see the inventive, hilarious animation of Aubier & Patar

When TrustMovies was but a lad -- and a young one, at that -- he wrote a multi-chaptered novella for his second-grade class entitled Cinnamon: The Story of a Horse. There was indeed a horse named Cinnamon in it, but there were also a raft of other animals, secret passages, chase scenes, haunted houses, and a grab-bag of plot devices this already movie-crazed kid had picked up from Disney, Abbot & Costello and Red Skelton -- among other prized sources -- inclu-
ding a finale in which the horse and his lady-love get hitched. "Horses do not marry," his second-grade teacher informed little Jimmy:
"They mate."

My story came to mind as I was watching the delightful and entrancing new animated movie from Belgium, A TOWN CALLED PANIC (Panique au village), written and directed by stop-motion animation duo Stéphane Aubier (above, left) and Vincent Patar (above, right) and based on their successful animated TV series from Belgium. As artists, these two are like little kids who want to cram absolutely everything into their crazy story -- and do: animals that act like humans, and humans who do, too; aliens (or are these simply "fish" people?), mad scientists, music lovers, policemen, politicians, haus-fraus and more. Secret passages are here, too -- whoopie! -- and they lead down to the center of the earth, where lava flows, then back up into the arctic air. Rhyme and reason take a much needed vacation, but amusement does not. If you fail to giggle almost first to last, I shall be very surprised.

The animators have corralled the vocal talents of prime-time local stars on the order of Jeanne Balibar (The Duchess of Langlois), Benoît Poelvoorde (Coco Before Chanel) and Bouli Lanners (Eldorado). The duo's incredibly clever stop-motion animation uses the simplest of objects -- figurines of a cowboy, and indian and a horse for starters, then surrounds these with more figurines that represent neighbors, townspeople, city officials, and finally those nutty scientists and aqua-folk.

At an only 75-minute length, the movie is short, but perhaps not quite short enough, as longueurs arrive after the first 30 to 45 minutes. These don't last, however; soon enough something so bizarre and funny has happened that we're off and running again. Aubier and Patar are like wildly inventive children who have loosed their imagination completely; yet they also possess the discipline (and the budget) of very smart adults. They're able to take life as it's lived today and place their figurines within it so that the most wonderful and bizarre changes occur. Nothing makes sense yet somehow everything does -- and sets us laughing, often with maniacal glee.

This pair knows all about internet shopping (and what can happen when your finger -- or some other object -- rests a tad too long on one particular key). They know movie cliches, too -- of mountain climbing and bar-rooms -- and how to upend these. I can't imagine that adults won't enjoy A Town Called Panic even more than will the kids, particularly the younger ones for whom spoken French with English subtitles will prove too much. ATCP is the only stop-motion animated feature ever to be shown as an official selection of the Cannes Film Festival, and it has already won the Audience Award at the Fantastic Fest. Just as I cannot imagine that our own Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences would bypass this amazement for a Best Animated Feature nomination, I also can't foresee its winning. It's way too original and witty for that.

A Town Called Panic opens this Wednesday, December 16 at New York City's Film Forum. Bring the kids! I plan to see it again with my granddaughter, though what her bright but only four-and-one-half-year-old mind will make of it, I can't imagine.

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