AKA: My Life as a Courgette, Ma Vie de Courgette, Autobiographie d’une Courgette, Autobiography of a Zucchini
Genre: Drama/Dark Comedy
Year Released: 2016
Running Time: 65 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: C’est Mieux la vie Quand on Est Grand
For Fans Of: My Life as a Zucchini is quite a unique film and not many films are like it. One could argue that the animation style is a bit reminiscent of Studio Laika’s works, but that’s scratching the surface.
-The English dub was used for this review.-Name translations in the original sub vs. dub. The characters will be addressed by their dub names.
Mme. Papineau=Mrs. Patterson
-My Life as a Zucchini won two awards at the 2016 Annecy International Animated Film Festival. It was also nominated for an Oscar, but it lost to Zootopia.
-This film was based on a book called Autobiographie d’une Courgette by Gilles Paris.
-The English dub features some notable talent. Raymond is voiced by Nick Offerman whom you may know as Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation. Zucchini’s mom and Mrs. Patterson are voiced by Susanne Blakeslee who is known for playing Wanda from The Fairly Oddparents and is Maleficient’s current voice actress via House of Mouse and Kingdom Hearts. Ms. Rosy is voiced by Ellen Page who you may know from Juno, Inception, and even from another movie I reviewed involving her called Wilby Wonderful.
I’ve reviewed several forms of animation from around the world, but there was one form that has been sorely lacking representation in Iridium Eye. That would be stop-motion animation. Sure, I’ve covered the live-action/animated hybrid film The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes, but I wanted to cover something purely animated. Leave it to GKIDS to bring the good with their diverse catalog of animated movies made outside of Hollywood’s tentacles. Fine, Universal is a co-distributor in North America, but this movie was created in another continent and distributed through European companies in their home countries.
How does this stop-motion animated film fare?
My Life as a Zucchini is about a nine-year old boy named Icare [pronounced Ee-Car], but he prefers to be called Zucchini. He lived in a small home with his rampantly alcoholic mother who spends her days drinking, yelling at the TV, and it’s implied that she physically abuses him. One day when his mom is coming up to the attic and threatening Zucchini, he accidentally kills his own mom by slamming the door on her head causing her to fall down the stairs. Since both of his parents are dead, he’s sent to Fontaine’s orphanage per orders from the policeman Raymond. His only mementos of his parents are a beer can from his mom and a kite featuring a drawing of his dad as a superhero. Zucchini starts out bullied by the other children there before slowly adjusting to life at the orphanage. There’s a girl named Camille who shows up later who has a very dark past of her own and Zucchini wants to be friends with her.
Let’s start with the animation. It certainly looks strange and even a bit childish, but I thought that the visuals worked in their atypical presentation. I do admit that I had felt a bit like a darker Laika production (Coraline, Kubo and the Two Strings, Paranorman), but there was enough uniqueness to it to make the film stand out. I believe the vibrant colors and childlike presentation works as a counterpoint to the morbid subject matter. The level of stop-motion/claymation quality is very well-integrated.
The characters also make the film work. Zucchini is a very sympathetic character dealing with a tragic situation. Him being bullied, being silent most times, and having a huge imagination are something I can certainly relate to and I never had the family issues that he had. It was sad as he didn’t even know his mom died at his own hands because of fear and an accident which traumatizes him in subtle and overt ways. Simon, the so-called boss of the kids started out as a typical bully at first, but even he was far from evil. He got his personality after his parents were hardcore drug addicts and are imprisoned for their crimes. I also noticed that he has a scar on his forehead that’s barely covered by his ginger hair. Camille was a very tragic character especially with how her parents died and the fact that her aunt is extremely abusive, yet pretends to be loving around the other adults. She becomes a great friend for Zucchini, but she has her own emotional baggage that’s revealed in different ways like how she’s a little too good at shooting all the balloons at an amusement park game in one shot which also ties into the relationship with her father which I won’t spoil. Raymond was a surprisingly likable character. He becomes a father figure to Zucchini as he cares about his well-being and he’s policing for the right reasons instead of being abusive or corrupt. Major props on making characters who feel like real people.
My Life as a Zucchini was a high-quality film, but it isn’t without it’s shortcomings. For starters, how did the main character get the name “Zucchini”? They never explain it in the film other than the fact that his mom called him that. Going off that name, I thought it was lame with how Simon called him a potato except for the joke he made about eating French fries. Besides that, I thought the subject matter was way too dark for something that was aimed at a younger audience. I’m not against movies with younger demographics having adult themes, but it got too much at times. There are disturbing implications that will be lost on younger viewers like the examples of child abuse and psychological trauma. It’s not shown (thank goodness), but the aftereffects are on display. In the English dub had one major flaw and it was Camille’s voice. She did try, but I thought she sounded way too old to play a character who’s only ten. I can see that argument of her backstory making her sound older than what she should (and who can blame her?), but Camille sounded like she was in her teens instead of someone who’s still elementary school aged. The rest of the dub cast is surprisingly good though. This Swiss/French animated film was a pleasant surprise.
While the story is very dark especially for a PG animated film, there’s a great sense of maturity that’s not seen in anything Dreamworks or Disney does. The animation is very good with the quality of stop-motion techniques here. The music itself was superb by composer Sophie Hunger. I did have an issue with some elements of the dub and the lack of background with multiple characters. My Life as a Zucchini is definitely worth your time though. I was glad I watched this film. Definitely recommended.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you like darker stories in your animated films.
Subtract 1-3 points if you’re not a fan of stop-motion or claymation animation.
-Wonderful stop-motion animation
-Amazing characterization and believably
-Very good film score
-Way too dark for a movie for younger audiences
-Lack of background elements with Zucchini and other characters
-Camille’s dub voice actress
Final Score: 9/10 points
Content Warning: My Life as a Zucchini is rated PG, but if you think the content wouldn’t be far off from Moana, Boss Baby, or The Lego Movie, then you would be sadly mistaken. Zucchini accidentally kills his own mom and he’s only nine when doing do. Some of the other kids at the orphanage have dealt with physical abuse, drug abuse, alcoholism, criminality, abandonment issues, a murder-suicide involving one’s parents, and one character’s father was arrested for being a “creep” which has implications where that so-called father may or may not have molested children. Each kid has a coping mechanism or has a habit that’s tied to their past which is tragic. One of the girls in the movie has a scarred left eye that’s covered by her hair. Some of the kids make jokes about adults doing “the thing” which refers to sex, but spoken in a naive way. I would recommend this movie for older children and up if they can handle the content.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. My Life as a Zucchini is property of GKIDS and Universal. The movie poster is from Loft Cinema and is property of GKIDS and Universal.