Unless their name has Disney or Pixar in the title, animated films are usually shafted for Best Animated films at award shows. It’s not like Disney doesn’t deserve it; they consistently make quality products that are made to identify with both children and adults (it also doesn’t help that voters have admitted that they don’t watch the animated nominees). But every once in a while, a different animated film will sneak in there such as Spirited Away and Secret of Kells, and will show people that there is more than just Mickey Mouse or Buzz Lightyear. This year, My Life As a Zucchini (or Courgette for international audiences) was that film.
When the Oscars and Golden Globes nominations were announced, folks were shocked that Finding Dory was snubbed for this unknown stop motion animation. What film could possibly be better than a Pixar film? Claude Barras’s animated film, My Life as a Zucchini, deals with loneliness, love, and family much more intimately than Finding Dory. Despite being only 68 minutes long, we long for these characters’ happiness and care about them so much. Even though we have already met and loved Dory, her story feels more two dimensional and less intimate.
The film starts out with Zucchini (his real name being Icare) cleaning up his alcoholic mother’s numerous beer cans. Without any dialogue, we see this sad, yet innocent life that Zucchini leads. His naivety is shown when he’s happily flying kites or creating sculptures out of the beer cans lying around. However, the film takes a twisted turn when Zucchini accidentally kills his mother to avoid a beating. From there, he’s taken to La Fontaine’s Orphanage. Unlike the storybook trope, La Fontaine’s is a warm and welcoming place. MMe Papineau, Mr. Paul, and Rosy, are the sole employees of the orphanage and do their best to make it a pleasant atmosphere.
During his stay, Zucchini befriends six troubled children. Bea’s mother was deported to Africa; Jujube’s mother had Schizophrenia; Alice’s father molested her; Ahmed’s father held up a store; Simon, who is the outspoken leader of the group, was taken away from his drug-addicted parents; and Camille, the newest addition saw her father kill her mother All of these children’s stories are different, yet they all believe in the same thing: that there is no one in the world left to love them.
Celine Sciamma adapted the screenplay from the short story by Gilles Paris. Her past two films, Tomboy and Girlhood, have both illustrated children’s struggles in an endearing way. In My Life As a Zucchini, she avoids sentimentality and extreme melodrama by being sensitive to these serious issues. There is a scene when the children get to go on a ski trip with their chaperones. Instead of enjoying the snow, they stare at a mother comforting her crying child. The single shot of the children staring at this nurturing moment was haunting and really helped drive Sciamma’s point. Thankfully, the short runtime lets Sciamma tell her story without being overly bloated. There isn’t much of a plot to go on, but you’re so invested in these children that you don’t even notice.
Judging from past Oscar winners, it’s obvious that the Academy leans to the more child-friendly picks in the animation category. Animated films have the stigma that they’re only for kids, but My Life As a Zucchini proves that they can be just for adults too.