If you're wondering about that movie with the funny title – the one nominated for an Academy Award as Best Animated Feature against such biggies as Zootopia and Moana – here it is. My Life as a Zucchini is a French-language stop-motion cartoon, blessed with both a Swiss director (Claude Barras), and an ambition not to do anything the conventional way. As if the story of a nine-year-old orphan named Courgette – that's French for zucchini – who's sent to a group home after the death of his alcoholic mother, could be considered even slightly conventional. Did we mention that the blue-haired kid accidentally killed mommy dearest during one of the matriarch's drunken tantrums? Well, we have now. Compared to her hard-knock life, Annie and Matilda had it easy.
What to know? That the animated characters,
most with elongated bodies and pasty ping-pong heads with huge eyes, are
beautifully realized, and that the delicate touch of Barras works wonders. Skillfully
adapted by Céline Sciamma (Girlhood) from the hit 2002 YA novel by Gilles Paris, the film
has a keen eye and ear for the way children process the inconceivable
(neglect, abuse, deportation, murder).
All is not hopeless for Courgette. A cop named Raymond shows him kindness, as
does a new girl named Camille. Even the red-haired school bully Simon forges a
hard-won connection. "There's nobody left
to love us," he says in a moment of quiet,
fleeting realization that can level you. Still, the feeling of melancholy is undercut
by the resilience of these children, their ability to forge relationships and create
life out of chaos.
For the U.S. version, the French voice cast has been replaced by the talented likes of Will Forte, Ellen Page, Nick Offerman and Amy Sedaris. What's lucky is that no matter what language it's in, My Life as Zucchini never sacrifices what’s true for what’s trite and easier to sell. This is animation as an art form, inspiring and indelible.