My Life as a Zucchini arrives in town with a boost from the name recognition afforded by its recent Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Animated Feature. (Those of you who voted in your office Oscar pool know what I mean.) This French movie uses remarkably expressive stop-motion animation to create an honesty and sense of whimsy that help offset the darkness of the intrinsic story.
The film by first-time feature director Claude Barras looks a bit like the work of a European Tim Burton. But as with Burton’s animated night terrors, parents planning on bringing a child should consider whether the youngster is old enough for the material. This is a story about a boy named Zucchini who lives in an orphanage, but unlike in Annie or Despicable Me, the traumas that caused each kid to be sent away are front and center. Zucchini (voiced by Gaspard Schlatter) becomes an orphan when (Note: I’m not spoiling much here because it occurs in the first five minutes, and parents do need to take this into account, but stop reading here if you wish to be surprised) he accidentally kills his mother during one of her alcoholic rages. Zucchini takes an empty beer can with him to the orphanage as a souvenir. The other kids come from equally disturbing backgrounds in which their parents are junkies, thieves or sexual predators; one has parents who were deported, and another witnessed her parents’ murder/suicide. It’s small wonder these kids can be seen reading Kafka.