THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI"
My Life as a Zucchini, a nominee for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, is a fine example of the stop-motion technique. Unlike Trolls, Moana, The Secret Life of Pets, and many other recent animated films, this one is not a happy-go-lucky affair. Instead, it tells a fairly dark, mature story. That story, though, is infused with great meaning. The fact that it's told with animation marks the movie as a notable work.
Zucchini is a 9-year-old boy who suddenly becomes an orphan after his abusive, alcoholic mother dies. A compassionate police officer, Raymond (voiced by Nick Offerman), takes him to a foster home inhabited by other kids who, for various reasons, are also without their parents. There, he meets two kindly teachers (Ellen Page and Will Forte), a bully, and a young girl whose friendship comes to mean a great deal to him. Zucchini is initially hesitant to be at the home, but over time, all the kids form a support system that helps him begin the process of healing his emotional wounds.
The design of My Life as a Zucchini is intentionally only semi-realistic. The characters are humans with very exaggerated features. Zucchini, for example, has a big round head, huge eyes, a tiny red nose, and arms that hang down to his knees. By taking this approach, director Claude Barras is able to emphasize the emotions in the characters' faces and bodies. The way the animation conveys difficult feelings like sorrow and remorse is astonishing.
Since this is an inherently touching story, that method is very apt. The movie seriously explores childhood grief and fear. Zucchini's mom was abusive to him. She was also the only anchor he had. After she passes, he's left without such an anchor. This makes him feel utterly alone in the world. His friendship with Raymond, coupled with the bonds he develops with the other kids, gives him a lifeline to grab onto. Adults and older kids alike will appreciate the sincerity of that message, as well as the sensitive manner in which My Life as a Zucchini delivers it. A healthy dose of humor helps to balance out the weightier material.
Parents may want to exercise some caution. There's a little bit of sex talk in the film, as one of the characters humorously discusses what he's learned. It's enough to earn My Life as a Zucchini a PG-13 rating.
With an extremely brief 67-minute running time, there was certainly room to expand upon the story's themes a bit more. The overall emotional impact would have been even greater with additional length. As it is, My Life as a Zucchini is still a heartfelt, poignant movie, and further proof that animation is a viable means with which to tell complex human stories.
( out of four)
Note: My Life as a Zucchini is playing in both English and the original French.
My Life as a Zucchini is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and suggestive material. The running time is 1 hour and 7 minutes.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!