If you’re into absolute surrealistic absurdity, this Belgian stop-motion animated picture will be your cup of tea. “A Town Called Panic” is loopy, chaotic and often very funny, though even at a mere 75 minutes it feels a mite overlong.
The characters are the sort of plastic toys one might find as Christmas stocking-stuffers—like the green soldiers of “Toy Story.” Three of them—Mr. Horse, Indian and Cowboy—live together in a house beside the farm of voluble Steven and his wife. Indian and Cowboy realize that it’s Horse’s birthday and they’ve forgotten to get him a gift, so they decide to build him a barbecue. But when ordering the bricks on the Internet, they accidentally select fifty million rather than the fifty they’d intended, and the huge pile demolishes the house altogether and turns the entire neighborhood into rubble. That doesn’t stop the crew from celebrating Horse’s birthday with a big party, though.
Matters get even curioser when the walls Horse tries to rebuild are stolen by a family of weird sea creatures. Pursuing them takes the trio into another world where, among other things, some mad scientists have built a huge penguin robot that hurls enormous snowballs onto unsuspecting people.
And one can’t forget the romantic element. Horse has eyes for Madame Longree, the local music teacher, and signs up for piano lessons with her in order to foster a relationship. Of course, his misadventures prevent him from showing up for them.
None of this makes a lick of sense, of course, but that doesn’t mean you won’t appreciate the invention and sheer good spirits on display. To be sure, the movie starts to run out of gas around the halfway point, and the utter disdain for logic can get a bit exhausting. But rather like “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” if not so successfully, it employs an attitude of deadpan humor to mostly good effect.
It’s a bit of a pity that “A Town Called Panic” is being released in a subtitled version rather than a dubbed one, since young children not yet of reading age might enjoy it. But the visuals alone will probably keep them entranced. And adults can appreciate the wackiness of the verbal non-sequiturs as well as the images.