Award-winning animated film toys with absurdity to great effect
“A Town Called Panic,” an animated Belgian feature that won the audience award at Fantastic Fest last year, commingles the glossy-crude textures and far-out sensibilities of “Gumby,” “Wallace and Gromit” and “South Park” (without the naughty bits). With an eye on its own ridiculousness, the stop-motion wonder uses a child’s plastic toys to tell a story that whips along in a free-associative blizzard out of a stoner’s fluffiest dreams.
In the titular village of rolling hills and sunny fields reside Horse, Cowboy and Indian and their neighbors. It’s Horse’s birthday, and when his roommates Cowboy and Indian set out to build Horse a brick barbecue as a gift, things go wildly wrong. The incident rips open a portal of misadventure so inventive and unpredictable that you can only sit back and chortle while happy question marks whirl above your head.
In this feature version of their hit series of the same name, animators Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar embrace the Dada anarchy of the Marx Brothers and non sequitur algorithms of Monty Python to spin a poppingly realized alternate reality where humans and animals, coexisting as equals and speaking in spluttered exclamations, are flung inside the Earth’s core, across the South Pole and into the ocean blue. (The movie’s strangeness signals a sophistication that small children likely won’t appreciate.)
The ticklish absurdity yields such unexpected encounters as a giant mechanical penguin that hurls snowballs, a clomping woolly mammoth, an octopus playing drums and puckish sea creatures that want to steal the walls of Horse, Cowboy and Indian’s house.
Like “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “A Town Called Panic” sings the joys of tactile animation and wide-eyed imagination. It’s a Crayola-colored, nostalgia-tripping curio
that feels oddly like home. ‘A Town Called Panic’ returns to Austin today through Wednesday. Alamo South, 10 p.m. $7. Indian, Cowboy and Horse find adventure in ‘A Town Called Panic.’