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BY Steven D. GreydanusRegister Film Critic
Clash of the Titans (2010)
A Town Called Panic (2009)
The Princess Bride (1987)
A Town Called Panic is not your typical animated fare. It may be the most oddball thing you see all year, if you see it, which you probably won’t, although perhaps you should. How can I explain it?
The stop-motion world of A Town Called Panic was developed by Belgian animators as a series of five-minute shorts originally shown on TV (you can find them on YouTube). Deliberately primitive and haphazard, their work evokes something kids might make playing with a video camera and cheap plastic toys — an Indian, a cowboy, a horse and so on — just making up random silliness on the spot.
The characters don’t actually look like they’re moving; they sort of scoot jerkily along with their feet firmly affixed to their little bases. Sometimes they change poses as if one Indian figurine were swapped for another between shots.
The relationships among the characters make no sense: Cowboy, Indian and Horse all live in the same house, but Horse acts like the parent while Cowboy and Indian are like bickering brothers. Making matters weirder still, Cowboy and Indian appear to be from two different toy sets, so that Indian is much too big for Cowboy.
Watching A Town Called Panic, you realize how Hollywood-polished Andy’s play-pretend cliff-hanger fantasies in Toy Story really were. Not that Panic isn’t witty. But its wit is in a seemingly artless vein — frenetic, nonsensical and ultimately impossible to explain. (P.S. The shorts on YouTube are dubbed into English by Aardman, but the feature film is subtitled.)
Also new on DVD, the Clash of the Titans remake is a demythologized take on classical mythology that all but dethrones the gods. Of course the pagan gods, with their all-too-human foibles, ultimately deserve to be dethroned — by the true God. But the gods of this Clash sometimes appear not just as unworthy pre-Christian rivals of the God of revelation, but as post-Christian parodies of him.
Zeus has always “tempered his wrath with love,” Hades says, almost quoting the Bible. A wild-eyed prophet proclaims doom unless the people make reparation — by offering the princess Andromeda as a human sacrifice to the Kraken. In the end, he’s just one more murderously zealous Hollywood true believer.
Would it be going too far to call this Clash, along with the 2004 film Troy, classical mythology retold for the New Atheist era? Perhaps, but not by a lot.
In other DVD news, if you don’t yet own The Princess Bride (and why wouldn’t you?), here’s yet another chance: a new Blu-ray / DVD combo edition that you can enjoy now even if you don’t have Blu-ray yet.
Content advisory: A Town Called Panic: Animated slapstick; depiction of drunkenness. Subtitles. Fine family viewing. The Princess Bride: Swashbuckling violence; a stylized torture scene; fleeting reference to suicide; a single instance of profanity.