Animation is often seen as a genre, aimed exclusively at small children who do not know better. Because of that we often get films like Storks, Trolls, and The Secret Life of Pets, that tend to pander to their audience without trying to make them think. Thankfully, every once in a while, a group of talented and passionate filmmakers come together to create an animated movie that stands out from the excessively-colorful pile of mediocre family comedies.
My Life as a Courgette (a.k.a. Ma Vie de Courgette) is a stop-motion animated Swiss film, directed by Claude Barras. It is an adaptation of Autobiographie d’une courgette, 2002 French novel by Gilles Paris.
As far as animation techniques go, stop-motion is easily my favorite: it requires a lot of planning and time, and in each frame you can see all the love and care put into moving the faces and movements of the characters. For this film alone, the animators were able to produce an average of 30 seconds each day, so it took over 130 days to film. The faces of the characters are greatly exaggerated, but their big eyes show all the pain that these kids are living with, making each smile that they make a powerful and heart-warming moment.
The story is about Icare, 9-year-old boy who lives alone with his alcoholic mother (who gave him the nickname of Courgette, a.k.a. Zucchini). After a tragic accident, Courgette is brought by Police Officer Raymond to an orphanage, where there are other five kids. After a rocky start, he gets used to his new life, makes new friends, and even falls in love with the arrival of a new girl, Camille.
Something that I did not know before watching this movie was its MPAA rating: I genuinely thought it was going to be a G (or PG film at max), especially by its innocent poster. Instead, it is PG-13, and it makes plenty of sense: instead of sugar-coating what happens in life and how children talk, there are plenty of talks about death, violence, abuse and sex (albeit in a non-graphic and exploitative way).
The themes featured are mature and treated with respect and care: all of the children have had a rough childhood because of their parents (be it cause they were thieves, addicts, murderers or child molesters), and together they manage to be happy and forget all the pain they went through; love is seen both as physical love-making (which is very hard to understand for a small child) and as completely losing your head for another person, finding yourself sucked into their eyes and unable to act as a normal human being.
The characters here are something to be cherished: all the kids are innocent victims of the wrongdoings of their parents and they manage to go on with their lives, and the adults that work at the orphanage and Officer Raymond are surprisingly good characters that understand what the children are going through and that want only the best for them. This is also one of those rare movies that has plenty of characters that are not explored, and yet it works: even though we do not get to know all that deeply most of the kids in the orphanage and its employees, it is not important because the focus is on Courgette and his relationships with Camille, Raymond and Simon (another orphan).
The movie is only 66 minutes long, and no second is wasted. The soundtrack complements the movie very well, especially in the emotional ending. I have seen it twice now, and in the final moments I struggled keeping my tears from streaming down my face. But, as Courgette says in the movie, sometimes we cry because we are very happy, and this movie definitely filled my heart with joy.
Overall, My Life as a Courgette is a mature animated movie that is going to appeal more to teens and adults rather than small children, for it tells an emotional and funny story without relying on cheap humor. Easily one of the best animated movies of the last few years, and one that will become a classic among other stop-motion juggernauts.
Visual Effects: 10
Violence & Gore: 3
Sex & Nudity: 4.5
Drugs & Profanity: 2
Intensity & Horror: 2