Award-win­ning an­i­mated film toys with ab­sur­dity to great ef­fect

Austin American-Statesman - - AUSTIN 360 BETS - — Chris Gar­cia

“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.’

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