‘My Life as a Zucchini’ is charming animated import from Switzerland

As a work of animation, “My Life as a Zucchini” would perhaps best be suited to the technique of crop-motion.

Stop-motion does just beautifully, though, and the movie is not really about a vegetable. It’s about an orphan whose mother called him Courgette, which means summer squash. “My Life as a Summer Squash” apparently did not test well with U.S. audiences.

Well, who cares what you call it. It’s a lovely little animated film, but it is in French, so at any moment its cast of 9-year-olds can suddenly start talking about sex.

The movie, at its outset, also may seem macabre to American eyes, even those weaned on Tim Burton. Zucchini (voice of Erick Abbate) lives with his single mother (an abusive drunk) in a cramped urban apartment, where he hides out in the attic. When mom gets angry and comes to spank him, he accidentally closes the attic door on her head and …

Cut to the orphanage.

Or more precisely, a home for troubled children. Run by sympathetic counselors who ask Zucchini to talk about his mother.

“She liked to drink beer,” is his economical reply, and he puts up a brave front, but the character’s clay design tells you everything you need to know – the mop of blue hair sitting atop his big round head, the melancholy circles of blue around his large eyes.

He joins a gaggle of children also hand-built for maximum pathos, except Simon, the resident bully and ginger, who has a devil horn of red hair jutting up from his forehead, a cowlick from hell, and a personality to match.

The children’s home is Dickens by way of Hugo, and what is initially framed as a heart-tugging tale of hard times and neglect grows brighter — a compassionate cop (Nick Offerman) becomes a surrogate dad. Even the “bad” characters deepen and expand and the story pushes toward a happy resolution, hastened by the arrival of the orphaned Camille, a smart and pretty girl. Will Zucchini’s overtures bear fruit?

Will they be squashed?

The movie’s story is simple and winning, its animation captivating, striking that peculiar mood that only stop-motion can create. The animators make clever use of objects – Zucchini has a keepsake beer can from his days with mom, and it becomes an important object in the story in several ways, lovingly rendered by the animators. Flapping birds, a kite flying from a moving car – it all works beautifully.

Give Zucchini a chance.

He just might grow on you.


“My Life as a Zucchini”

Grade: B

Starring voices of Estelle Hennard, Michel Vuillermoz and Raul Ribera. Directed by Claude Barras.

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and suggestive material. Check listings for theaters. 1 hour, 6 minutes.

Bottom line: A simple and winning movie with captivating animation