The Zucchini (Gaspard Schlatter) of the title is actually a young boy named Icare, who prefers his vegetable nickname. Zucchini is sent to the orphanage at the start of the film for accidentally killing his own mother with a mess of beer cans. At first, his new roommates are cruel to him, especially Simon (Paulin Jaccoud), but it quickly becomes clear that all of them have had unusually hard lives for children, and are better off sticking together. In particular, Zucchini really wants to stick together with another new kid, a green-eyed girl named Camille (Sixtine Murat), who has a bigger smart mouth than Simon and just as much compassion. Combined with his friendship with cop Raymond (Michel Vuillermoz), who filled out Zucchini's paperwork and dropped him off on the first day, everything's going great until it looks like Camille may be taken away by her money-hungry aunt.
Narrowing down my ambivalence for Zucchini is complicated, because plenty of the film is charming. The film's animation is gorgeous, with lovely colorful vistas that really come to life thanks to stop-motion's natural 3D effect, and excellent subtle work on the characters' crucial emotional nuances. I also have no problem with cartoons for adults, what with Don Hertzfeldt's World of Tomorrow and It's Such a Beautiful Day ranking among the best filmmaking of the 21st century. Yet, there's something about the disparity between the way Zucchini looks and the sort of subject matter that it tackles that never quite clicks for me. Maybe it's the sense that kids might actually benefit from a story that touches on concepts such as abuse (both physical and sexual), abandonment, death, and even murder. The screenplay, adapted by Celine Sciamma (Girlhood, Tomboy) from Gilles Paris' novel, handles these moments with clarity and tenderness, and yet it's not entirely clear how these moments would play for children.
Conversely, the film's central story and many of its gags do feel squarely aimed at children, and the tone of the picture is cheerful in a way that's hard for an adult to really settle into. While Sciamma's dialogue and ability to convey emotional ideas is strong, her plotting is less so, with the film feeling more like a series of mini adventures pressed together into a longer narrative than a complete story. Certain sequences, such as a trip to the snowy mountains, feel a bit overlong, while other threads, such as the relationship between Zucchini and Raymond, end up coming off underdeveloped, even when they are intermittently successful at tapping into sentiment and sweetness. There are also a number of crude sex jokes that just play awkwardly (that might be the French sensibilities poking through).
Another thing that's strange about Zucchini is how long it ends up feeling despite running a mere 68 minutes, with credits -- another choice that adds to the confusion by suggesting it was designed for shorter child-size attention spans. A glance at some of the praise the film has received suggests I'm in the minority here, but for my money, My Life as a Zucchini is adrift at sea, a strange movie whose occasional beauty, sweetness, or insight is tempered by its deeply uneven nature.
The Video and Audio
Two DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks are available for the movie, including one in the original French, and one dubbed into English, complete with a celebrity voice cast. I flipped between the two throughout the film, and (as a purist), my preference was the original French track. The voices on the celebrity track have a slight flatness to them, adding a hint of detachment. Both mixes are just fine in terms of the surround sound experience, complete with vibrant music and well-balanced dialogue. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing (the dub), English subtitles (the original language, translated), and French subtitles are also included.
Trailers for Alice and the Extraordinary World, Phantom Boy, and When Marnie Was There play before the main menu, with additional trailers for Boy and the World, Miss Hokusai, Ocean Waves, and Only Yesterday accessible from the menu. A U.S. theatrical trailer for My Life as a Zucchini is also included.