"We're all the same. There's no one left to love us."
Seemingly every year lately, the Oscar category for Best Animated Feature has nominated a number of worthy foreign animated films that wouldn't have otherwise gotten much attention in the States. This year, rather than nominating a subpar American animated blockbuster like "Trolls," "Sing," or "Finding Dory," the Academy threw a bone to the Swiss claymation feature "Ma vie de Courgette" or "My Life as a Zucchini." Shockingly, the film features only one bit with a cute animal.
A word of warning to parents of kids under age 10—while the off-beat title and kid friendly animation style may appeal to your kids, this is a far darker and much more twisted film than anything to which they may have been previously exposed. Zucchini is the nickname of a nine year old boy who lives in the attic of his home and his only toys are the discarded beer cans from his alcoholic mother. One day, in a drunken rage, his mother goes to attack Zucchini, but he slams the door to his room, accidentally killing his mother when she falls down the stairs.
After being assigned to a kindly police detective named Raymond, Zucchini is shipped off to an orphanage filled with children that have similarly dark circumstances which brought them there. One girl in particular, named Camille, helps Zucchini start to feel again and the two strike up a very tender and poignant relationship. The children begin to feel one another out and form a kinship, albeit one that's very fragile due to the fact that kids can be jerks, no matter where they come from.
While watching the film, one can't help but notice how thoroughly European it is in its sensibilities, but the dynamics between the children are boldly universal. There's that old chestnut about being kind to everyone you meet, for they are fighting a battle you know nothing about, and it's a great lesson for children mature enough to handle the film's content. If you're a parent thinking about showing this to your kids, ensure that they possess a decent understanding of death. It's an ever present theme in the film and it's one that is paramount to anyone's appreciation of this film.
One of the things I enjoyed most about "My Life as a Zucchini" was its lack of a true villain. The redheaded Simon is something of a menace throughout the film, but he's more of a wayward soul than a villain. Then there's a third act attempt to turn Camille's aunt into a villain that falls mostly flat, mainly because a story like this doesn't need a villain. I'm left somewhat puzzled by their attempt to hew to a tired convention like a lame third act conflict, manufactured out of thin air, just to give the characters an obstacle to overcome. Nevertheless, the gorgeously funky animation is worth the price of admission all on its own.
I would love to give "My Life as a Zucchini" an unqualified recommendation because it is so much better than the average animated effort. However, children raised on said average films may not be ready for the mature subject matter. Like all things related to parenting, your mileage may vary, but this isn't one you turn on for them so you can do chores. The film is darkly beautiful in its way, and plays like something Tim Burton may have made had he grown up in Switzerland. It takes an off-beat sensibility to get on this film's wavelength, but I think that's a pretty great thing sometimes, especially in a kids movie.