Animated films may very well be the highest form of cinematic art, stretching from the earliest days of cinema, right up until today. Obviously there are some individuals that abuse the power of animation by making subpar films made for a quick profit. Yet there are still voices in cinema that keep to the brilliance that animated films stand by, and I think there are two companies that are doing tremendously well in terms of allowing independent animated films to be made and seen. The first is a production company, Laika, that may be relatively young but through only a small amount of films have made quite an impact. The other (and the subject of this review in a way) is a distribution studio, Guerrilla Kids International Distribution Syndicate, also known as GKIDS, which, over the past decade or so, distributed some of the most influential animated films, and found themselves to be formidable rivals to the monumental Disney and Pixar. One of the most recent masterpieces that GKIDS distributed was My Life as a Zucchini (Ma vie de Courgette), a truly unforgettable piece of cinema.
My Life as a Zucchini is about Icare, also known as Courgette (or Zucchini, as the English title would suggest), a boy that accidentally kills his alcoholic mother (this is already very far from the sometimes toothless mainstream animated films we receive from big studios), and as an orphan, he is sent to a home for children who do not have parents. There he meets a rag-tag group of children, such as the mischevious Simon and Camille, a girl who Courgette almost instantly falls in love with. Over the course of the film, Courgette and the other children do their best to adjust to their situation and look on the bright side of life, which is difficult when you are put into a home as a children that seemingly nobody wants. With the help of a friendly police officer, Raymond, Courgette and the other children manage to find some meaning in their lives, and some motivation to go on.
I admire stop-motion animation. In a world where computer-generated animation is so freely available and popular (as evident by the myriad of mediocre CGI-animated movies that are released every year by Disney/Pixar-wannabe animation studios), it takes a special kind of talent and patience to create stop-motion animation. 2016 saw the release of two monumental stop-motion animated film. The first was obviously Kubo and the Two Strings, one of the most unbelievably gorgeous and complex animated films I have ever seen, where the stop-motion was so perfectly and meticulously crafted, it imitated real-life far better that many animated films. My Life as a Zucchini was the other, and unlike Kubo and the Two Strings, it took the opposing root of being a deliberately clunky but no less beautiful stop-motion film. The animation may be a little amateurish, but that is the entire point – it finds charm in its simplicity, and through the quirky designs and grandiose effort put into the film, My Life as a Zucchini has a charismatic quality to its aesthetic that is missing from a lot of mainstream films. Stop-motion is sometimes reviled for being slightly creepy or unsettling, and as the dependence on CGI animation grows, we need to be reminded that films like Kubo and the Two Strings and My Life as a Zucchini represent one of the most extraordinary sub-forms of animation, and is an art form all on their own, and should be loved and preserved just like every other piece of art.
Thematically, My Life as a Zucchini is incredibly complex. It has some increasingly dark moments, such as the titular character accidentally causing the death of his mother, or the allegations of emotional abuse inflicted upon Camille by her aunt, or Raymond’s loneliness, or the plight of orphans – this is not a typical animated film in the sense that many people reductively think – not all animated films are for children. My Life as a Zucchini is certainly a wonderful film for children (and I applaud any parent who allows their child to watch My Life as a Zucchini, because it is one of the most wonderful animated films I’ve ever seen, far better than a lot of the mainstream films we see every year), it does touch upon several very dark themes, and it is sometimes unbelievably sad. Yet it is also touching and very hopeful, and has one of the most optimistic endings possible. It is a film that isn’t scared to go where many animated films refuse to go, and while I wouldn’t dare say children shouldn’t watch this film, I do think it is a lot more serious than what they may be used to – but maybe that’s a good thing, because its something for everyone to enjoy.
With a running time of only an hour, My Life as a Zucchini is a film that is accessible to everyone, and it flies by wonderfully. It is a complex and fascinating film that uses its themes well, and sets itself up to be a future classic. It is beautifully made, wonderfully constructed in terms of narrative and it touches on some serious subject matter that doesn’t alienate audiences, but rather unites them. Honestly, I have to be biased as someone who loves independent cinema, but I urge everyone to watch and support this film. Disney and Pixar will be around a long time after we are all gone, and we are going to see their films anyway, just please give a film like My Life as a Zucchini as chance – we need people to continue making masterpieces like this, and they can only do that if us, the audience, rallies around these kinds of films and help them be seen. This may not be a film that will change your life, but it is certainly one of the most extraordinary animated films in a while, and proves that independent studios are responsible for some true masterpieces across the board, and My Life as a Zucchini is definitely one of them. Please watch this film.