Call me simple-minded, but I like animation to look like animation. Yes, the life-like renderings featured last year in The Jungle Book were technically impressive. But if I want to see life-like animals, I’ll watch the National Geographic Channel or go to the San Diego zoo. I’ll take the painstaking hand-drawn work of Hayao Miyazaki over the computer artistry of Pixar Animation Studios any day.
As someone who grew up watching the films of Ray Harryhausen (Clash of the Titans, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, Mysterious Island), I also have a soft spot for quality stop-motion animation. Paranorman (2012) from the Oregon-based stop-motion studio, Laika, has become an annual Halloween viewing tradition in my home. So when I learned that My Life as a Zucchini was a stop-motion animated film from Switzerland that garnered a 2017 Oscar nomination, my expectations were running high. And I’m pleased to say, those expectations were met by this charming, quirky little film.
Zucchini is a nine-year-old French boy who lives with his alcoholic mother. He dreams that his absent father is a superhero while he builds pyramids from empty beer cans. When his mother dies in a household accident that may have inadvertently been caused by Zucchini, the young boy is sent to live in an orphanage with a cast of other neglected and abandoned children.
This may sound like a bleak premise for a children’s movie, but My Life as a Zucchini follows a time-honored tradition of separating children from their parents (Bambi, Dumbo, The Wizard of Oz) because that’s when adventure takes place. Zucchini soon finds himself facing off against a bully (who ultimately has a heart of gold), developing a crush on a young girl and learning about sex in a surprisingly frank way from his fellow orphans.
My Life as a Zucchini is the kind of film that would never be made in the Hollywood studio system, and it’s all the more interesting as a result. The simple, elegant stop-motion animation will likely bore the youngest of viewers. Elementary schoolers may be troubled by its world of abused kids and social services workers, and teenagers will ironically see it as a “kids’ movie”. That said, the film deserves to find its audience. With themes focusing on overcoming life’s obstacles, refusing to be defined as a victim by your circumstances and the importance of finding your own version of family, My Life as a Zucchini has a great deal to offer its PG-13 audience.
My only complaint about the film is its brief 62-minute runtime. I didn’t want to say goodbye to its unique cast of characters after only an hour. And that’s a great complaint to have.
[My Life as a Zucchini opens at Landmark Theatre locations across the country on Friday, March 10, 2017.]
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.