January 28, 2010

Animated Indian in A Town Called Panic

'A Town Called Panic'

This stop-motion animated film based on a Belgian TV series is filled with strange and wonderful talking people and animals who, yes, panic at the drop of a hat.

By Kenneth Turan
The first stop-motion animated feature to be an official Cannes selection, "Panic" is the offshoot of a French-language Belgian TV series whose creators, St├ęphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, have quite the following all across Europe. Made with an anarchic, anything-goes spirit, this is truly a film, not to mention a town, where you never know what's going to happen next.

It's also a town populated by people and animals who are no more than stiff and immobile plastic toys whose facial expressions never change and who move in fits and starts across a simple, almost primitive landscape. We never find out how the three housemates got together, but their psychological relationship is clear. Horse, often glimpsed sitting on the sofa reading the newspaper, is obviously the adult of the crew, while the juvenile Cowboy and Indian share a bedroom, spar with each other, fight for the shower (Indian's headdress displays like a peacock's tail when it gets wet) and vie for Horse's favor.

Comment:  The headdress-wearing Indian is a stereotype, of course. He reinforces the message that all Indians resembled Plains chiefs.

Using a cowboy and Indian in a fantasy movie seems harmless enough. But if your lead character is a talking horse, why not do more to subvert expectations? For instance, use a man in a suit and a US soldier but call them "Cowboy" and "Indian."

The literalism of the Cowboy and Indian suggests how universal these stereotypical figures are. To the world, that's what an Indian: someone associated with cowboys and horses. Reinforcing this notion shows a lack of imagination in an otherwise imaginative film.

I'm reminded of the cowboy and Indian in Disneyland's "It's a Small World" ride. Turning these figures into a song 'n' dance team denies their history as antagonists. Like a thoughtless Thanksgiving pageant, it scrubs the white man's role as invader and oppressor.

Would you make a movie with a Nazi and Jew palling around like Laurel and Hardy or Martin and Lewis? Probably not. Then why show a cowboy and Indian as bosom buddies?

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

1 comment:

Rob said...

A comment received via e-mail:

I saw 'A Town Called Panic' and the creators rationalized the Cowboy and Indian figures as buddies by saying that they had to get
along because they were kept on the same toy chest together! They're still stereotypes but the film itself is so wacky and fun
you can almost forgive it--almost. I'm a huge animation fan so I went to see it for that and the stop motion work was superb.