Animated plastic toys like Cowboy, Indian and Horse have problems, too. Cowboy and Indian’s plan to surprise Horse with a homemade birthday gift backfires when they destroy his house instead. Surreal adventures take over as the trio travel to the center of the earth, trek across frozen tundra and discover a parallel underwater universe where pointy headed (and dishonest!) creatures live. 

Each speedy character is voiced — and animated — as if their very air contains both amphetamines and laughing gas. With panic a permanent feature of life in this papier mâché town, will Horse and his girlfriend ever be alone?

A TOWN CALLED PANIC is one of the rare full length animated films ever to secure the honor of a coveted slot in the Official Selection (in this case, Out of Competition) at Cannes. After René Laloux’s La Planete sauvage (Fantastic Planet) won a Cannes prize in 1973, it was three decades until a French-language animated feature made a splash: The Triplets of Belleville. Hollywood animation has found favor with the Festival in the 21st century, with Shrek and its sequel, as well as Over the Hedge and Kung Fu Panda receiving Cannes invitations. 

Innovative French animated feature Persepolis (2007) and acclaimed Israeli animated feature Waltz with Bashir (2008) were accepted into the Competition and the 2009 Festival opens with 3D computer-animated Up! A TOWN CALLED PANIC holds the unique distinction of being the only stop-motion animated feature film ever chosen by the world’s most important international film festival. 

It’s a frenetic comedy through and through, with an arrestingly original visual style and memorably silly voices to match. The inseparable Belgian duo of directors Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar – known as Pic Pic André in honor of the central characters in their first popular hand-drawn cartoon — are the film’s hands on animators. In their studio on the outskirts of Brussels they put 1500 plastic toy figures through their mile-a-minute paces over the course of 260 days of production. The improbable but irresistible adventures of the film’s plastic protagonists required as many as 200 “clones” per character, painstakingly animated to make a complex technique look as casual and spontaneous as children playing with their toys. 

Famed in Belgium and internationally for the brand of absurd humor they’ve been purveying for over 15 years, Pic Pic André enjoy creating in an informal, family-style setting. For “Panic” is also a state of mind — some would say a state of being pleasantly OUT of one’s mind — shared by the members of La Parti (a production company created by Vincent Tavier, who produced and co-wrote the legendary Man Bites Dog.) 

PANIC, whose cast first appeared in acclaimed short films, follows the offbeat adventures of a dozen characters who happen to be generic plastic toys. Cowboy, Indian and Horse all live together across from their neighbors, Steven the farmer and his wife Jeanine. The directors were able to enlist a brand new character for the feature film: Madame Longray, a very sexy and patient mare who teaches at the local music conservatory. Adding to the customary antics are a band of underwater creatures, up to no good whenever they drop in from their parallel universe. 

Aubier and Patar were first inspired to animate Horse in an unsophisticated village setting when they were both students at the Belgian art academy in the eighties. The pair worked with eclectic paper cut-outs as well as hand-drawn animation when they hit on the idea of moving stiff plastic toys through a stretch of countryside made out of cardboard. The “Panic” sensibility was born. Cowboy and Indian – perpetual specialists in creating havoc out of the most mundane occurrences — joined the cast and the village became the epicenter of frantic, relatively short episodes in which the gifted animators piled on dark, offbeat humor while imparting human emotions to cheap plastic toys. 

PANIC boasts a distinctive, easily recognized approach only its creators can provide: A cast comprised exclusively of ultra-basic but nostalgically evocative children’s toys, pleasingly bucolic settings disrupted by a rock ‘n’ roll sensibility, absurd dialogue and voice talents with such proudly silly delivery that there’s no mistaking this cartoon universe for anywhere else. 

A TOWN CALLED PANIC is also a cult TV series whose 20 memorably outrageous animated episodes were telecast in 2003 by Canal+ (in France and Belgium) prior to making their way around the world to festival acclaim and TV popularity (Nickelodeon, WDR, Canal+ 
Spain, etc.), eventually landing in the excellent hands of the folks at Aardman Studios, who handled the English dubbing.