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(A Town Called Panic is distributed by Zeitgeist Films. It opens in New York City on 12/16/09 at the Film Forum, before expanding in the coming weeks and months. Visit the film’s official website to learn more, and visit the TV show’s official website to watch some clips.)

In trying to verbally convey my reaction to Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar’s A Town Called Panic, I now understand how babies must feel. Ga ga. Goo goo. Moo moo. Boo boo. I just took over twenty pictures of myself, hoping one might capture the punch-drunk expression I had on my face while watching this utterly zany romp, but I figured posting a .jpg of my face as opposed to words would be a rather silly and odd thing to do. So I guess I’ll try to do it the old-fashioned way.

If the meticulously precise stop-motion animation of Fantastic Mr. Fox is a hyper-smart teenager, then the gleefully scrappy A Town Called Panic is its idiot savant little brother. For obvious reasons, I’ve never cut-and-pasted a film’s official synopsis into a review of mine, but so much for never. Here goes nothin’:

Cowboy and Indian’s plan to gift Horse with a homemade barbeque backfires when they accidentally buy 50 million bricks. Whoops! This sets off a perilously wacky chain of events as the trio travel to the center of the earth, trek across frozen tundra and discover a parallel underwater universe of pointy-headed (and dishonest!) creatures.

atowncalledpanicstillLet it be known that this description is completely literal. As in, “Cowboy” is indeed a cowboy, “Indian” is in fact an Indian, and “Horse” is a… you got it. They also happen to be plastic toy figurines whose dubbed voices make them sound like drunk Belgians tweaked out on helium and speed. Everything in this world is hand assembled, hand manipulated, hand constructed, a hodge-podge of animation techniques that results in something wholly unique. To top it all off, it’s executed with a reckless abandon that is more akin to how children play with their toys in their bedrooms when they’re alone, as opposed to “adult filmmakers” making a “legitimate” Cannes-ready film. Ga ga. Goo goo. Moo moo. Boo boo.

Normally, when I am smitten with a work of art/entertainment, I want to learn more about the creator(s), understanding the dynamics that led to its creation. But in this case, I don’t want to do that. I want to remain as ignorant as possible. Yes, I know that this movie was made by talented “grown-ups” who have also achieved success with these characters in a Belgian cult television series of the same name. But it’s more fun to watch A Town Called Panic and forget all that, to think that this is actually happening inside the brain of a precocious, lonely child. Or, even better, that this is what happens once all the humans have left the room. Take your kids, take your parents, take yourselves—this movie was made for all of us.

— Michael Tully

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Michael Tully is an award-winning writer/director whose films have garnered widespread critical acclaim, his projects having premiered at some of the most renowned film festivals across the globe. He is also the former (and founding) editor of this site. In 2006, Michael's first feature, COCAINE ANGEL, chronicling a tragic week in the life of a young drug addict, world premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. The film immediately solidified the director as one of Filmmaker Magazine’s "25 New Faces of Independent Film,” a reputation that was reinforced a year later when his follow-up feature, SILVER JEW, a documentary capturing the late David Berman's rare musical performances in Tel Aviv, world-premiered at SXSW and landed distribution with cult indie-music label Drag City. In 2011, Michael wrote, directed, and starred in his third feature, SEPTIEN, which debuted at the 27th annual Sundance Film Festival before being acquired by IFC Films' Sundance Selects banner. A few years later, in 2014, Michael returned to Sundance with the world premiere of his fourth feature, PING PONG SUMMER, an ‘80s set coming-of-age tale that was quickly picked up for theatrical distribution by Gravitas Ventures. In 2018, Michael wrote and directed the dread-inducing genre film DON'T LEAVE HOME, which has been described as "Get Out with Catholic guilt in the Irish countryside" (IndieWire). The film premiered at SXSW and was subsequently acquired by Cranked Up Films and Shudder.

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