Sunday, April 02, 2017

OVP: My Life as a Zucchini (2016)

Film: My Life as a Zucchini (2016)
Stars: Gaspard Schlatter, Sixtine Murat, Paulin Jaccoud, Michel Vuillermoz
Director: Claude Barras
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Animated Feature Film)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 4/5 stars

The Best Animated Feature Oscar category has always felt, to me, like a little bit of a cheat.  Unlike foreign language films, where there are thousands of them and they rarely get honored by the Oscars, or the documentary categories where it's clearly a different style of filmmaking, animated movies have been nominated in the Best Picture category before and there aren't that many of them each year.  They are not a specific genre of film that needs calling out, but a very successful format, arguably the best box office insurance you can put into the market short of a Marvel superhero.  So having their own category always felt a bit cheap-just a way to honor them without giving them the "big honor," so-to-speak.

That being said, after a couple of years of growing pains, the category has found a way to be relevant even if it's judging just a couple of dozen films in a year rather than the hundreds most of the other categories are contending with-they have found ways to highlight films that otherwise would get no attention.  While, yes, Disney generally dominates in the winner's circle (this past year being no exception to this rule), the nominees themselves frequently involve inventive new waves of animation and new types of storytelling.

(Spoilers Ahead) Thus is the case with the charming, if a bit twee, My Life as a Zucchini.  The film is centered around a young boy nicknamed Zucchini who accidentally makes himself an orphan in the opening scene, a scene that would generally dominate the rest of the film, but here the writers smartly focus on simply the aftermath of him being an orphan, particularly being orphaned from a cruel, drunken mother.  The film follows his adventures with a group of orphans at his school, including the initially bullying Simon and Zucchini's love interest Camille.  The film falls into a relatively familiar pattern with Camille being saved from her evil aunt and Zucchini & Camille eventually going to live with Raymond, the kindly police officer who has been looking in on all of the children.

The movie's plot may sound thin, and it is, but the film is spry (just over an hour) and fills every scene with necessary plot, but also a playfulness.  The children are not particularly precocious-there are scenes where they don't quite understand what is going on around them and that makes sense with no central adult contact in their lives.  The movie also fleshes out side characters extremely well, which is something that non-Disney animated films have always struggled with, in my opinion.  And the movie's plotting is cute-these are a likable band of children, enough so it's the rare movie you kind of want to see a sequel to even though it's not going to give you one.

The animation style is fascinating, and not afraid of a very expressive color palette.  I love the reliance on neons, particularly with Zucchini and Simon's hair, and the way that the claymation interacts with the sets.  While there is some CGI used, the characters are actually interacting with hand-crafted sets, which feels like a miracle in our hyper-digital world, and you can see the impeccable care put into the story.  Based on the animation alone, I would have nominated this at the Oscars, but throw in a delightful story that's sweet but has depth, and you have a winner.

Those are my thoughts on My Life as a Zucchini-how about yours?  Anyone else notice what a swell year for animation 2016 was?  What was your favorite of the Oscar contenders?  Share below!

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