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50 Piano Lessons For Mr. Horse

November 10th, 2010 · No Comments

Logging in to Netflix Instant for a movie to watch is like being hungry and shown to a food replicator. It doesn’t solve my problem — it introduces one thousand new ones. Luckily, I can see which genres are rated higher in nutritional content, in this case, 4 or 4 ½ star ratings out of 5 stars. “Documentary” had a lot of those. So did “Anime & Animation”. In the month of November, I take another trip around the globe to sample recent animated feature films. Next stop: Brussels, Belgium.

A Town Called Panic (2009)
Directed by Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar
Screenplay by Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar, story by Stéphane Aubier, Guillaume Malandrin, Vincent Patar & Vincent Tavier
Produced by Philippe Kauffmann, Vincent Tavier
77 minutes

If Pee-wee and his pals in the playhouse were still on Saturday morning television, A Town Called Panic would be exactly the type of entertainment they’d get a kick out of. Belgian animators Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar became friends while attending visual arts school La Cambre during the 1980s. For his thesis project, Aubier crafted a manic stop-motion short out of generic toy figurines — cowboys, Indians, farm animals — and papier-mâché sets. Their professors were unimpressed, but in 2000, Aubier & Patar returned to the concept, writing, directing and supplying voices for several 5-minute shorts co-written and produced by Vincent Tavier. Dubbed from French to English and distributed on Nickelodeon U.K. by Aardman Studios, A Town Called Panic was such a hit that Aubier & Patar were hooked into making a feature length film.

Aubier & Patar settled on remaking an episode titled “The Card Thief”, which juxtaposed hijinks in town with the world of Atlantis that existed underneath. Their tiny team in Brussels spent 260 shooting days putting 1,500 plastic figurines through their paces. The result is a comic jewel, rapid fire in its wit, textured in its characters and as crazy as a peach orchard boar. A Town Called Panic is probably too good to be called a cartoon. Its herky jerky stop-motion animation is charming, but it’s Aubier & Patar’s willingness to lob balls into left field — rather than cater purely to kids — that makes their work so special. Amid the madness, characters that are little more than plastic figurines with excitable voices resonate with more emotion than human beings in contemporary live action movies seem to be able to. Viewers seeking laughs and little more are likely to have a field day here.

A day in the town of Kir begins like any other. A bicycle postman delivers a package to temperamental farmer Steven (Benoît Poelvoorde), as well as a parcel to the Gendarme (Frédéric Jannin) who maintains law and order. Coboy (Stéphane Aubier) and Indien (Bruce Ellison) are rousted from sleep when Postman visits them next. Over breakfast, their roommate Horse (Vincent Patar) mentions that today is his birthday. Desperate to find a gift on such short notice, Indien hits on the idea of building Horse a barbecue. To distract him, Steven sends Horse on an errand to pick his children up at school. There, the chemistry between Horse and equine music teacher Madame Longrée (Jeanne Balibar) is palpable. Ordering the bricks to build Horse a barbecue, Coboy enters 50,000,000 units on the computer instead of 50. Upon delivery, panic grips Coboy and Indien.

Other than Steven getting angered when his wife Janine (Véronique Dumont) dances with Postman, Horse’s birthday party goes off without a hitch. After dark, Horse is awakened when the 50,000,000 bricks Coboy and Indien stashed on the roof crush their house to smithereens. Once he throttles his roommates, Horse begins rebuilding the walls of their house. Once night falls, thieves make off with their walls. Adding two plus two and getting five, Gendarme throws Steven in prison for the crime. To prove their neighbor’s innocence, Horse, Coboy and Indien stake out the scene of the crime the following evening and catch three sea monsters robbing them. Pursuing the mischievous creatures to the ends of the earth, Horse places himself in serious jeopardy of being tardy to the piano lessons Madame Longrée has invited him to.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 1,811 users: 86% for A Town Called Panic

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 70 for A Town Called Panic

What do you say?

Tags: Alternate universe · Animation · Beasts and monsters · Road trip · Small town

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