Monday, September 27, 2010

Hysterical hysteria

It's a good thing for Pixar that A Town Called Panic opened in 2009, because while Toy Story 3 is a very good movie, Panic is an explosion of lunatic creativity like I haven't seen in a long time. If any movie deserved the appellation "LOL," Panic does.

This is not just a smart movie based on a TV show with limited animation, like Rocky and Bullwinkle. The limitations of the animation, using the sort of figurines that children play with (based on real figurines bought at flea markets and garage sales) is an inherent part of the style. Smoother, more "realistic" animation would spoil the jokes.*

Once you've absorbed the silliness of the animation, the next thing that hits you is the speed and density of the events and the gags, and the way they link to each other with a child-like explosion of imaginative leaps. Some commentators say the story follows its own logic or carry ideas out to their logical conclusion. But that is an inadequate explanation of how the heroes fall through a trap door to the center of the earth (where they answer their cell phones), find a door that connects directly to an Arctic tundra where they encounter a giant robot penguin flinging giant snowballs to other parts of the earth. Later, we discover that the creatures stealing the walls belonging to Cowboy, Indian and Horse look like the Creature from the Black Lagoon and live far, far below the pond in the neighboring farm. This is nothing like any kind of logic--it just follows, the way a child makes up a story as he plays.

The whole film feels like a long session with a hyper-creative child. There is very little snarky adult satire in the film--only the double vision of a child's adaptation of the world to their own understanding and the adult's unfortunate knowledge of how things really are. Why shouldn't they make pianos that horses could play (not to mention toothpaste dispensers)? Why can't a little police booth expand into a local jail (like an earth-bound Tardis)? Why can't an angry farmer attack you with parachuting cows? (see the clip.)

Happily, Zeitgeist Films has chosen not to produce an English track, because the over-excited voices are an integral part of the whole thing. (Indian is constantly hysterical, Horse sounds like an American comic doing Charles Boyer, neighbor Steven is apoplectic non-stop.) And they add to the sense of speed, which makes The Simpsons seem stately and majestic by comparison. That contributes the child-like nature of the film, since healthy children at play think, talk and act at the speed of light. It's amazing to learn the script took years to develop and refine--the film seems like a mad improvisation, like a playtime locomotive bearing down on you at top speed.

And one of the best things about this film is it dispels the notion that only 3D CGI characters are compelling enough to entertain nowadays. Now I just got to find a crazy kid to watch this literally hysterical film with.
* Panic originated as a Belgian TV series. Belgium is France's answer to Canada; a neighboring country which doesn't take itself as seriously and has an extra language (or two) to contend with.

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