Finding a place to be loved
My Life as a Zucchini tells the whimsical tale of an orphaned boy’s renewed hope
My Life as a Zucchini
Directed by Claude Barras
A blue haired boy with a strangely red nose, ears, and enormous blue-rimmed eyes sits alone on the floor of an attic bedroom, building a tower out of beer cans. The walls behind him are covered in colorful, slightly-haunting drawings. Meet Icare — or Zucchini, as his mother calls him — the curious, nine-year-old protagonist of the whimsical stop motion animated film My Life as a Zucchini.
The film chronicles Zucchini’s bumpy journey as he is sent to a home for foster children after his abusive, alcoholic mother’s death. There, he encounters a literally colorful cast of children — from Simon, the cocky carrot-redhead, to Jujube, the sandy-haired worrywart who constantly wears a band aid on his forehead to cure his “headaches.” All these children have experienced the worst traumas life has to offer, yet through the arrival of a new girl, Camille, they somehow find a way to form a warm community even when it seems as if there is no one left to love them.
The film’s aesthetics alone are enough to carry it, even without the quirky characters and charming, uplifting storyline. The stop-motion technique lends a beautiful, silky feel to every instant. Stop-motion is a notoriously time-consuming process, with hundreds of slightly different photos strung together to give the illusion of continuous motion. All that effort is strikingly present in the final product; each frame of My Life as a Zucchini is an artistic masterpiece in its own right, from the white, craggy mountains on a class outing in the snow to the meticulous drawings in Icare’s room in the opening scene. The colors, proportions and shapes in the world are slightly off, stylized in the same vein as Dr. Seuss or Tim Burton. When watching the movie, I couldn’t help but marvel at the care and detail that went into each image. In this way, the movie almost transcends to the level of pure art.
While My Life as a Zucchini’s plot may feel a little basic, the ambling feel of the movie lets the viewer focus on its delightful subtleties — the kids’ quietly ridiculous dance party, or their hilarious discussion of “the thing with girls and boys.” It allows the viewer a chance to return to childhood with these lively, unlucky kids, to just feel and appreciate life as it slowly passes by.
One issue I have with the film is the disparity between its feel-good tone and the more serious topics it tackles. The film is adapted from a French novel by the same name that was intended for more mature audiences. However, in adapting the novel the filmmakers decided to target younger viewers — children. This gap in intended audiences can be seen in moments when the scene cuts from one of the children discussing being beaten by his parents to one of the children frolicking happily in the snow. It sometimes feels as if the film takes too simplistic an approach to these tough issues by shying away and making it seem as if every foster child will find a happy ending.
However, the film deserves commendation for broaching the difficult subject of foster children at all. Through its slightly skewed aesthetics — the jagged, brightly colored trees and oddly proportioned people — the film offers a window into the world of a child mistreated by life. For kids like Icare, the story gives hope that things can get better no matter how dismal life may seem. The film immerses adults in a lost world, reconnecting them to the joys of childhood. My Life as a Zucchini allows all of us to join an abandoned boy on his journey to rediscover love.