"MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI" — 3 stars — Voices of Gaspard Schlatter, Sixtine Murat, Paulin Jaccoud, Michel Vuillermoz; PG-13 (thematic elements and suggestive material); Broadway
Fans of stop-motion animation will be pleased to know they have another gem on their hands. "My Life as a Zucchini" is a bit darker than your usual kids movie, but it is a wonderful thing to watch.
Director Claude Barras' film, which is based on Gilles Paris' book, follows the story of a 9-year-old boy named Icare (Gaspard Schlatter). Icare's father left years ago, and his alcoholic mother insists on calling her son Zucchini, a name he actually prefers. After a tragic accident early in the film, Zucchini is sent to an orphanage.
Life at the orphanage is about what you might expect. There's an alpha male named Simon (Paulin Jaccoud) who starts off as a bully — calling Zucchini "Potato" because of the shape of his head — but eventually comes around to respect the newcomer after Zucchini stands up to him. We learn about all of the horrid back stories that landed the kids at the orphanage, including drug abuse and theft. Gradually, Zucchini settles in and sends regular letters to Raymond (Michel Vuillermoz), a police officer and de facto father figure he met in the transition to the orphanage.
Life gets a little more complicated (in a good way) around the time a young girl named Camille (Sixtine Murat) shows up, dropped off by her aunt. Camille's back story puts her peers to shame — her parents died in a murder-suicide — but, in spite of her dark past, she quickly becomes the apple of Zucchini's eye.
Audiences used to the dramatic twists and turns of a mainstream animation plot will be disappointed by "Zucchini's" low-key style. Most of the film, which barely runs over an hour before the credits roll, is centered around the childrens' interactions at the orphanage. And if it isn't already obvious from the subject matter, "Zucchini" is a little too macabre for young children, in spite of its vivid animation.
That stop-motion animation is one of "Zucchini's" biggest strengths and probably one of the biggest reasons it was given an Oscar nomination for best animated film for 2016 (it is only now getting its general release, though some local audiences may have been able to catch the film at this year's Sundance Film Festival). Stop-motion animation has a very special way of creating mood and personality, and those qualities are enhanced by the wide-set eyes and haunting look of "Zucchini's" characters.
Because of the dark subject matter and some vulgar language from the kids (who come up with their typically 9-year-old interpretations for sex), "My Life as a Zucchini" will be most appropriate for, and most appreciated by, an older audience. The story is uplifting and sweet and combined with its haunting animation, "My Life as a Zucchini" will make for a moving combination for the right audience.
Audiences should also stay in their seats during the credits in order to catch an adorable bonus scene that is connected to the film's production.
For evening screenings, "My Life as a Zucchini" is presented in French with English subtitles. Daytime screenings will be dubbed.
"My Life as a Zucchini" is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and suggestive material; running time: 70 minutes.