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January 11, 2017

Happiness is a Zucchini Away

It’s exactly what you need this week.

This is fast becoming a disturbing and sad week for news, politics, and life in general. There’s no one right way to combat the insanity, although lighting your computer on fire and tossing it out a window comes close. Before you do resort to that, I offer up this absolutely delightful trailer for My Life as a Zucchini. May it sooth you as it soothed me.

If you haven’t heard of My Life as a Zucchini yet, this would be the part where I would make some sort of joke about how it isn’t about becoming a vegetable (haha!), but we’re all film fans here. It would be hard to miss this film as it’s been making incredible headlines since its debut at the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes last spring.

Adapted by the incredible Céline Sciamma (Girlhood, Tomboy) from a novel by Gilles Paris, My Life as a Zucchini (Ma vie de Courgette or My Life as Courgette) is the feature-length debut from director Claude Barras. After Cannes, it went on to screen at numerous festivals and collect awards. It was also nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature. Oh, and also it was Switzerland’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. Right, and it also made the official shortlist. And did I mention that it could likely get a nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards? Like I said: making headlines.

So why all the praise? Well, the story for one. It’s about a boy (not a vegetable) whose nickname is “Zucchini.” After his mother’s sudden death, he is taken to an orphanage and struggles to find his place. The story deals with alcoholism, death, grief, and suicide — concepts that aren’t often found in children’s films. (And at a brisk 70 minutes, make no mistake that this is a children’s film.) As Variety states, “This is not the stuff of which kids’ movies are typically made, and while My Life as a Courgette falls into that zone of animation that’s mature enough for adults to appreciate, it deals frankly with the facts of life in a way that neither condescends to nor scars younger audiences.”

Though children have tiny bodies, their minds and hearts are big and inquisitive. It’s often underestimated just how much they can — and want — to feel and comprehend. With the right approach, complex topics can and should be a part of their young experiences. My Life as a Zucchini is set join the ranks of other animated films that push the boundary for what a “kid’s film” can be, like learning about feelings and emotions with the help of Joy and Sadness (Inside Out), understanding humanity and friendship through a robot (The Iron Giant), or just sobbing uncontrollably for ten minutes straight (Up).

The animation is also something to behold. The stop-motion designs are unique and bright — almost whimsical, but a little too weird (in a good way) to really be so. You can watch a little behind-the-scenes from the film below. It’s always incredible to see the intricate work involved in making a stop-motion film. (But also eye-twitchingly frustrating, as Ben Wyatt surely agrees.)

My Life as a Zucchini is coming to the United States in February, just after screening in the 2017 Sundance Kids program. Along with the original French version, there will be an English dub as well. As you would expect, its English cast is impressive and includes Will Forte, Nick Offerman, Ellen Page, and Amy Sedaris. But if you’re able, see the original version! I’m here to tell you that reading subtitles is okay — you will survive.

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