For those unfamiliar with the premise of the popular French animated series, the show follows the antics of Cowboy (Aubier) and Indian (Bruce Ellison), two childlike characters who constantly get themselves into trouble and then only dig themselves deeper. They are watched over by the seemingly adult and more reserved Horse (Patar), and their torments often affect the trio's neighbors, Steven (Benoit Poelvoorde) and Jeanine (Veronique Dumont), as well as their family of animals -- Cow, Pig, Chicken, Donkey, and Sheep. The two houses are also separated by a little crossing station, home of a policeman (Frederic Jannin).
As with the 2009 feature film, these shorts are wacky stop-motion adventures that have a certain snap and energy that recalls the best kind of slapstick comedy. Fueled by imaginative cartoon logic and the unending selfishness of Cowboy and Indian, they would be a delight to watch just for the visuals and creative ideas even before Aubier and Patar's excellent comic timing as both animators and voice actors entered into the picture.
The first short, "The Christmas Log," finds Cowboy and Indian frantically trying to make up for accidentally destroying Horse's fancy holiday treat, because it's cost them their Christmas presents (Horse picks up the phone and calls Santa, who is in the middle of loading two gigantic boxes onto a flatbed truck with a bust of his face on the front). This provides a number of excellent opportunities to torment Steven, who has purchased the local supermarket's last Christmas log, which Cowboy and Indian (in the true holiday spirit) decide to steal. Aside from the duo's delightful vision of Santa as a fairly casual guy who can easily be reached by telephone, and the sight of the reindeer taking the night off in their own bar, the highlight is a ridiculous chase sequence in which Cowboy and Indian rush to escape Santa, and then (of course) an angry bear.
The second short, "Back to School Panic," is arguably even better, with Cowboy and Indian slacking off on the first day after summer vacation until a spaceman arrives at school and offers a prize trip to the moon to whoever can correctly figure out the distance between the Earth and Moon in millimeters. Horse provides books, but all Cowboy and Indian know how to do with them is try and build a staircase into outer space. It would be a shame to spoil the hilarious and visually stunning finale to the short, but suffice to say it involves a very funny vision of a world made out of pork products, and another wacky chase scene, complete with some unexpected scientific methods.
The original TV show -- more on that in the extra features -- had a fairly simplistic look in line with the concept of using existing toys as the basis for the jerky comic animation style. Both the 2009 feature film and these two 2016-era shorts have a nicely detailed universe that is only made funnier by the accuracy, odd scaling of objects in relation to one another, and the tangible nature of each little prop and bit of set dressing. In the second half of "Back to School Panic" in particular, the production design of the shorts is really a major part of the joke. The vocal performances are also excellent, with the same kind of rhythm that makes the animation so funny. Best of all, these features -- running under an hour played back to back -- are not as exhausting as the full-length film, which felt like it strained to bring the show out of the shorter TV format and into the feature format even at only 75 minutes in length.
The Video and Audio
Note: When first playing the shorts, the default is the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. A sample of this shows the same aural qualities but dubbing that can't match the personality of the original recordings. There is also a second English subtitle stream that matches the dub. Once the viewer selects French or English for the first short, the disc seems to understand that the viewer would like to play all three programs with the same options selected.
It's also a bit buried on the actual disc, but hitting "Play All" on the shorts will also include a single brand new bonus short, "The Sound of the Grey" (3:16). It's unclear what context this was produced in, as it doesn't have the "Town Called Panic" intro that all the other films on the disc open with, but it is indeed another sketch at least tangentially featuring Cowboy, Indian, and Horse, as well as a little angry gray man watching over his domain.