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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that My Life as a Zucchini is an Oscar-nominated French-Swiss animated movie about an orphaned boy nicknamed Zucchini who goes to live in a group foster home. The occasionally mature subject matter -- including the death of Zucchini's alcoholic mother and references to sex, abuse, violence, suicide, deportation, and other reasons children end up in state care -- makes the movie most appropriate for older tweens and up. Kids comically discuss sex, and there's a brief scene of a couple kissing, as well as one in which kids confront their pregnant caretaker about how she became pregnant. Expect some sad moments and conversations, but lots of funny and touching ones, too. There's plenty to talk about after watching movie, and it ultimately has a happy ending, as well as messages about family, friendship, and empathy.
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What's the story?
MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI is a French-Swiss stop-motion animated film about a 9-year-old boy nicknamed Zucchini (voiced by Gaspard Schlatter in the original and Erick Abbate in the English-dubbed version) who ends up in a group foster home after his alcoholic mother dies suddenly in a home accident. Raymond (Michel Vuillermoz, Nick Offerman), the kind police officer who takes Zucchini to the home, stays in touch with the boy as he adjusts to the social hierarchy of the home. Simon (Paulin Jaccoud) is the worldly alpha kid with bullyish tendencies, but he's eventually won over. The rest of the crew -- Ahmed, Alice, Jujube, and Beatrice -- is sweet and unassuming, but they all have heartbreaking stories. The kids bond and form a routine -- and then a new orphan named Camille (Sixtine Murat, Ness Krell) arrives. Zucchini is instantly smitten with her, but her time in the home is threatened by a secretly cruel aunt, who threatens to take Camille away.
Is it any good?
Director Claude Barras' adaptation of Gilles Paris' novel isn't quite a coming-of-age story, but it's every bit as poignant. And the gorgeous animation and whip-smart dialogue make it a delightful pick for tweens and up. My Life as Zucchini can be heartbreaking, it but never loses sight of how resilient children are, even when they've seen the horrors of violence and abuse and abandonment. Despite their difficult backgrounds, Zucchini, Simon, and their housemates just want to be cared for and to belong -- and for the most part, they do. "They're all the same," Simon tells Zucchini -- whether it's because a parent was arrested, deported, died, or just left. These are kids who have no one to claim them as their own, at least at first.
Like some of Studio Ghibli or LAIKA's edgier offerings, My Life as Zucchini isn't meant for very young kids, and that's refreshing. Not all animated films need to cater to the early-elementary set, and this one is clearly best for kids who are mature enough to appreciate the characters' difficult circumstances (and of course, to deal with the hilarious conversation the boys have about "that thing between boys and girls"). This is a story that brings up so much, and it's all treated beautifully -- from the bully redeemed to the power of puppy love to the importance of friendship to the fact that families can be more than blood relations. If your family enjoys stop-motion animation and your kids are ready for big themes with a side of laughter and possibly tears, this is a must-see film.
Talk to your kids about ...
How is this story similar to and different from other stories about orphans or kids in group homes? Why is it memorable that the caretakers were actually caring?
Why do you think some of the kids weren't friendly toward the police officer who visits Zucchini? What does Zucchini mean when he says that cops are the reason some of the kids don't have parents?
Why do you think Simon treats Zucchini the way he does at first? Is he a bully? How does their relationship change, and why?
- In theaters: February 24, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: May 23, 2017
- Cast: Gaspard Schlatter, Sixtine Murat, Paulin Jaccoud, Ellen Page, Will Forte, Nick Offerman
- Director: Claude Barras
- Studio: GKIDS
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship
- Character Strengths: Empathy
- Run time: 70 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements and suggestive material
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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