By Bradley Lane
Animation has been stigmatized as both a medium for children and, in turn, a medium where stories must be dumbed down for that younger target audience. However, the best films in this medium almost all universally deviate from this trend. Pixar made a name for itself not just by blazing the trail of computer animation, but by telling stories oriented toward adults just as much as children. 2016’s My Life as a Zucchini is a slight variation on this type of storytelling that, rather than attempt to tell a children’s story for adults, tells an adult story through the perspective of children.
The film opens with a portrait of 9-year-old Zucchini’s troubled home life, as he draws on the floor of a dingy attic surrounded by empty beer cans. This visual information becomes all the more troubling when soon after this scene, his drunken mother takes a tumble down the stairs and dies in a freak accident. Without a father figure in his home, Zucchini is left without a legal guardian and is taken into a foster home where he meets a group of similarly disenfranchised kids. These new friends quickly give way to a series of events that teaches Zucchini, and in turn the audience, the value of friendship, trust, empathy and found family.
At the heart of the film, complementing its gorgeously animated visual style, is a wonderfully crafted script from French cinema darling Celine Sciamma. It uses the perspective of the film wisely by not shying away from mature subject matter like abuse and suicide but interprets those ideas through the eyes of its cast of well characterized kids. By doing so, it makes the film approachable to younger audiences while maintaining its mature tone. But the film’s greatest strength is that it uses the adult subject matter to encourage healthy dialogue between parents and children about these ideas.
Children will learn about mature content one way or another and with the proliferation of the internet, kids are learning about grown-up issues earlier and earlier in their development. The best thing you can do as a parent in this situation is expose kids to these ideas in a controlled environment, and in turn shape the narrative of these ideas in a healthy manner. The film makes an ideal setting for this dialogue as the strongest takeaways from the film are great lessons for children’s development.
My Life as a Zucchini is a beautifully animated film that respects both children and adults enough not to dumb down a mature story for the sake of marketability. My Life as a Zucchini is currently available to stream on Netflix. – 4/5 stars