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A Town Called Panic: A Loony Tale
It takes a lot to make the animation in Fantastic Mr. Fox look comparatively slick and polished. Even the cheap stop-motion of Adults Swim’s Robot Chicken can’t match the crudeness of A Town Called Panic. However, what the film might lack in sheen and gloss, it makes up for in the cute and charming department. This little Belgian clay-animation packs an admirable measure of sheer joy joy into the course of its 75-minute running time.
The town of Panic exists in a child’s uninhibited imagination. It’s populated by toy figures that are still attached to a base (like those green toy soldiers). The tale centres around three toy friends: a horse, a cowboy and an Indian. Horse is the most responsible– compared to the not-so-bright Cowboy and Indian– and he assumes the role of their guardian. On the other hand, Cowboy and Indian spend their days avoiding– unsuccessfully – getting into trouble. Other characters reside in the town of Panic , including a policeman, a postman and a farmer; kind of an unintentional and surreal parallel to the Village People.
The catalyst of their newest adventures arrives when Cowboy and Indian find out that they’ve forgotten to buy a present for Horse’s birthday. In haste, they decide to build him a barbecue stand and accidentally order 50 million bricks for the job. They don’t know what to do with all the excess bricks; so they just rack them on top of their house, and come night-time, the weight of these bricks brings the house down. Now they have to rebuild the house from scratch; but again, this simple task proves to be more challenging than it at first seems.
All efforts fail miserably, with an outlandish domino effect, causing situations to become ever more ridiculous. Even though the three toys end up in unexpected places, their adventure never fails to be highly engrossing.
A Town Called Panic is not concerned with telling a cohesive story or teaching a valuable lesson. It’s more of an exercise in lunacy that goes far in its weirdness. The manic inventiveness is the main attraction here. The animation’s visuals are stylish and truly amazing; and although the character design is primitive, the clay cast emotes feeling without needing to change so much as a facial expression.
Much of the humour in A Town Called Panic is visual: Horse goes to bed, but not before taking his shoehorns off, and when he does get into bed, he just stands on top of it. Clever jokes like this occur frequently throughout the film, not in the same volume as in Toy Story; but there is nonetheless something special about this charming and innocent little film.
Harrelson has a starry supporting cast backing him up made up of the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi, Ice Cube, Ben Foster and Robin Wright Penn. Brie Larson plays Dave’s daughter Helen, and after him, she’s the best thing about the film. The relationship between the two runs on hate and scorn mixed with a twisted kind of love. It brings to mind the saying about how blood is thicker than water. How you can hate a family member so much and see them for the worthless scum that they are, yet still allow their opinions and words to affect you. It’s a toxic relationship, one of many in the film, yet it packs a punch that the others don’t.
The story is occasionally difficult to keep track of as it jumps abruptly from one topic to another, but Dave’s internal conflict is more compelling than anything the story throws at you. Dave and Helen’s scenes together are far more powerful and infinitely more interesting than any of the scenes in which he brandishes a gun or kicks a guy to a bloody pulp. The film has some fine camera work; it forgoes flashiness just for the sake of it and instead focuses on bringing the viewer in closer to the actors. It works with the actors to set the scenes’ mood instead of just framing them.
Adventure, humour and friendship seem to be the common themes in almost all animation films; they’re always there. Gnomeo and Juliet is a 3D animation that follows the lead of popular films; except this time the lead characters aren't your typical animals, they’re garden gnomes!
Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2), Gnomeo and Juliet tells the story of a
doomed love story between Gnomeo (McAvoy) and Juliet (Blunt). With only a wall
separating the two gardens, they can’t declare their love because their neighbouring
families have been at war for years. After a disputed lawnmower race between the
two families, hard-done losers Gnomeo and his friend Benny (Lucas) sneak into
their enemies’ garden to seek revenge against the cheating Tybalt (Statham).
They bump into a disguised Juliet, and she fights-and-flirts with Gnomeo over a
sacred lawnmower chord, then they're both struck by the love-bug of course.
Yes, as you might notice, the film shares more than just a likeness in its name to the epic love story of Romeo and Juliet. We also choose to believe that the respective colours of the two warring factions – red and blue – have been deliberately chosen to mirror those of two other warring factions: LA gangs the Bloods and the Crips.
Despite the obvious parody, the film has its own persona and there are other sub-plots that keep the film light and upbeat, though they aren’t entertaining enough to appeal to an older audience. Most of the comic scenes rely heavily on puns and obvious jokes that you’ll see coming miles away. The humour is blatant and easy to grasp, which will work well with a young audience.
It’s also good to see a different choice of characters other than animals, green ogres or toys, though admittedly the producers really pushed the ceramic figures to their limits with well-played Shakespeare puns. However, this film may not be that memorable in the long run. With the predictable endings and basic humour, this film holds no surprises or intriguing twists to keep you entertained.
At the end of the day, Gnomeo and Juliet is a film that kids will love for its pranks and cute characters, but it won’t appeal to the adults who grasp the Romeo and Juliet parallel plot yet find it lacking in substance and entertainment. For a parody of a famous love story, Gnomeo and Juliet could have done a lot better.