I think I could have subtitled this review- Grown Ups Suck! In fairness there are some lovely adults in My Life as a Zucchini but boy the one’s that suck, REALLY SUCK! This is such a hard review to write but I just wanted to state that out-front and get it out of the way.
So let’s talk about the Oscar hopeful My Life as a Zucchini. This is a stop motion animated film out of Switzerland that could receive 2 nominations come Tuesday (it is up for best foreign and animated film). On the whole I’d say those nominations will be deserved if they come. This is a challenging, but rewarding film with amazing animation that draws you into the experience.
It’s very hard to talk about this film without giving out spoilers but I will do my best. Basically it is about a little boy nicknamed Zucchini who’s Mother dies in a shocking way to start out the movie. He then goes to live in a group home for troubled orphans. There he meets a mostly friendly group including a girl named Camille and a rebellious boy named Simon.
Just as an example, one of the girls has a hideous aunt who wants to remove her so she can get the foster care money for caring for her. The kids must then figure out a way to protect their friend when the adults fail.
In a way, My Life as a Zucchini is kind of like Annie but there’s not just one Miss Hannigan. Each child seems to have their own Miss Hannigan nightmare, which is probably fairly accurate for the type of child in a group home like this.
That may sound like a real downer and it can be but the film also interjects comedic segments into the story that really work. It can be a quite joyous film and in a way the brutal sequences make the joy more sweet and precious for the kids.
There is also a nice chemistry between the kids. They feel real and genuine with a terrific English dub cast. These are not the typecast kids you might get in a film like Hook where there is the rebel, fat kid, sweet kid etc. These children are unique and are all pretty well portrayed. The script takes time for small moments of character development like when one orphan finds a pair of ski goggles on holiday. The owner accuses him of stealing them but he is so happy with them that her daughter gives them to the orphan in a lovely gesture. This isn’t even our lead character and yet it is such a touching moment of human empathy. When I got out of the theater I tweeted that My Life as a Zucchini was an unusual mixture of the brutal and adorable and that’s really true. It’s like if Sesame Street had a ‘life kind of sucks’ episode. One of the ladies outside of the theater compared it to Bambi but I don’t agree with that. Bambi has a sad event take place where My Life as a Zucchini is more about pushing through when all of life seems to be out to get you. It’s about finding family, hope and joy in the midst of everyday struggles.
One character in particular, Simon, is particularly well written. Again, he could easily be the rebel kid we’ve seen in a million of these stories but he’s not. There’s a point where he is very envious of Zucchini and Camille but he still gives a loving response. He still tells them that they have to do what is best for them despite him wishing he could be so lucky. It was a beautifully written scene. It was really cool after the screening they showed us one of the puppets of Zucchini and told us about the making of the film. Stop motion always blows me away and this is no exception. They did a tremendous job making the characters come alive. The eyes were particularly expressive. It is a tremendous accomplishment and they deserve all the praise they are getting in the animation department.
There were some children in attendance at my screening but I have to say if I was a parent I would be a little reticent about showing them My Life as a Zucchini. Not that I think children should be sheltered but it’s a lot of bad behavior for a kid to absorb in just one movie. We would certainly have to do some major talking after about addiction, selfishness, wrong choices, poor parenting and the reality of evil. We would also have to talk about the power of friendship, family and love that does pull through in the end for the characters.
It’s a movie of contrasts I suppose, but in my opinion it’s not really a movie for small children, which is fine but perhaps the animation style would lead you to believe otherwise.
I feel like this review is a bit all over the place and that is because I kind of feel that way about this film. It’s shocking, sweet, beautiful, funny, upsetting and adorable all at the same time. A side of me wonders if on rewatch this could become one of my favorite animated films of the year. The writing and animation is strong enough but it’s just so different I’m not there yet.
I certainly recommend seeing it and participating in this unique experience on film. In a way it is kind of like the 400 Blows in animated form! It’s not every day you can use that in a review! If you do see it let me know what you think. I will definitely do a spoiler review in the future and dive into the plot in more detail than I can here, so keep an eye out for that.
For now I give My Life as a Zucchini…
Overall Grade- B+