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Film Review: Claude Barras’ Tender ‘My Life as a Zucchini’ Brings Social Realism to Animation

My Life as a Zucchini

With a title like “My Life as a Zucchini,” you’d be forgiven for thinking that Claude Barras‘ new animated film would be a happy-go-lucky story with talking vegetables. But you would be sadly mistaken. Barras takes animation down rarely trod paths with this heartrending film centered around children dealing with issues surrounding death, depression and abandonment.

“My Life as a Zucchini” is primarily the story of a boy affectionately known as Zucchini, whose life is abruptly changed following his alcoholic mother’s sudden, accidental death. As the only child in a single parent home, it leaves him orphaned and homeless, until a friendly police officer takes him to a new foster home. The change is difficult at first, made worse by the aggravations from the bully among the group of orphans. But as he learns of their equally unfortunate pasts, the children gradually band together, forming a makeshift family to help them overcome their circumstances.

Indeed, Barras establishes a tone of deep-rooted sorrow from early on in the film. He tackles the film’s dark subjects with as much stark honesty as any social realist drama. In one scene, one of Zucchini’s new friends runs through the dark backstory of each of the orphans. From deportations, to mental illness, to sexual abuse, each story is more saddening than the next.

As we learn more about these characters, Barras explores the effects of their tramautic experiences with acute sensitivity. And with the wonderfully tactile quality of the stop-motion animation, it creates a deeply felt sense of tender fragility. Indeed, there are scenes littered throughout that may bring you to tears.

But as in life, the sorrow is counterbalanced with moments of true happiness, however brief. And in this case, Barras includes some truly adorable touches as Zucchini falls in love and the entire gang becomes fascinated by “the birds and the bees.” Though the film is far from the upbeat adventures we’re used to from animated films, these elements enliven the story considerably. Admittedly, the relatively simple story does feel slowly paced at times, but it’s a refreshing change.

Through its ups and downs, “My Life as a Zucchini” leaves you with a heartwarming message about the healing power of friendships. And with its mature approach to its dark themes, it truly earns its eventual uplift. The animation may remind you of Play-Doh and crayons, but this film is suitable for all ages.

“My Life as a Zucchini” will be released in theaters in 2017 by GKIDS.

GRADE: (★★★)