A Town Called Panic

The feature-length debut of Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar’s puppetoon characters Horse, Cowboy, and Indian has a few surprisingly durable methods for getting laughs: 1) toy-soldier-style animal figurines doing people stuff; 2) hold-on-to-your-hats jerky stop-motion; and 3) scream-talking by most characters. Number three may eventually give you a headache, and the film occasionally feels like a pileup of gonzo shorts stitched together, but it’s engagingly loony while it (and the viewer) lasts.

The miniature trio room together in a house in the country (next door to a frantic, shouty farmer); the painted-plastic primary colors pop, and music and sound/voice cues are sharp and punchy. Horse, the gruffly laconic alpha toy, goes wobbly over a music-teacher mare, voiced by Jeanne Balibar with a hilarious purr in contrast to the rough accents of the others. Surreal trouble arises with a typo in Cowboy and Indian’s Internet order for bricks, and proliferates with a rabbit-hole trip to fantastical far-flung locales populated by vaguely Mélièsian aliens and mumbly superhuman scientists.

Aubier and Patar (the voices of Cowboy and Horse, respectively) gleefully send their creations speeding into absurd misadventures, drawing on Aardman and Chuck Jones alike, although their work is less neatly conceived from start to finish. Thankfully, the two Belgians don’t aim for twisted or ironic humor (à la Robot Chicken, a recent Stateside stop-motion hit), and the frenetic scenarios should play fairly well as energizing for kids and ridiculous for adults.