The Secret Garden to Thirteen Reasons Why: Death is getting darker in children’s books (curated article)

Hunger Games (image courtesy Lionsgate)
Young adult literature is starting to explore death in depth.

Erin Farrow, Victoria University

The inevitable and universal nature of death has made it a popular topic of children’s literature. While death has appeared in these stories for centuries, death in young adult novels has become much darker and more complex.

The recent controversy over Netflix’s adaptation of the novel Thirteen Reasons Why, which depicts the aftermath of teen suicide, shows that dealing with death in kids’ fiction can be fraught. While some defended the show’s graphic depiction of suicide, others argued it was gratuitous and dangerous.

This raises the question of whether children’s literature and young adult fiction is still a safe place to discuss death. At the recent Emerging Writer’s Festival panel, Sex, Death and YA, young adult literature was celebrated for exploring such complex themes. While there may be a trend toward darker themes in literature written for a young adult audience, there is still room for hope.

 

Charlottes’ Web (1973) manages to deal with death by making the subject a spider instead of a person (image (c) Hanna-Barbera Productions

Putting death on the page

When early works of children’s literature broached the topic of death, it was usually to show how the protagonist copes in the aftermath of the death of a family member or friend. In many of these early works, depictions of death were softened for the reader, occurring outside the text. For instance, Mary’s parents in The Secret Garden (1911) die “off page”, which acts as a plot device to facilitate Mary’s arrival at Mistlethwaite Manor, where she discovers the secret garden. Charlotte’s Web (1952) softens the blow by making the characters non-human – in this case a spider.

Modern young adult novels are different. These texts not only depict young adult protagonists dealing with the aftermath of a loved one’s death, but also the trauma of witnessing it. Such as in the case of The Outsiders (1967), when the 14-year-old protagonist Ponyboy is present when his best friend Johnny dies in hospital and when Dally, a member of Ponyboy’s gang, is killed by the police.

In recent years, young adult novels have featured their protagonists doing the killing. The characters in books such as Harry Potter (1997), The Hunger Games (2008) and Tomorrow When the War Began (1993), struggle not only with the inevitability of death and the pain of losing loved ones, but also with the guilt and ethical dilemma of having to kill to survive.

 

The Fault in our Stars, both novel and film, deals with a terminally-ill character. (image (c) Fox 2000 Studios)

Life after death

There has recently been an influx of novels that present death from the perspective of the protagonist. These novels show characters who are terminally ill, presenting a rarely explored viewpoint in young adult novels – the perspective of dying. In books such as Sonya Hartnett’s Surrender (2005), Jenny Downham’s Before I Die (2007) and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (2012) the protagonist portrays the fear and pain of dying, the challenge of accepting one’s own mortality and the guilt of leaving their loved ones to cope after their death.

Other recent novels come from the perspective of someone who is already dead. They speak to the reader, and sometimes even their own friends and family, from beyond the grave, such as in Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall (2010) and, although technically not a young adult novel, in Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, which has been widely read by young people.

In the beginning of Jay Asher’s 2007 novel Thirteen Reasons Why it is made clear that the protagonist, Hannah Baker, has taken her own life. As the novel continues, Hannah’s story and the reasons for her actions are disclosed through a series of tapes, 13 in total, all recorded before her death.

The Netflix series also demonstrates the shift of how death is portrayed to an adolescent audience. While Asher’s novel leaves the method of Hannah’s suicide largely undisclosed, the series, released ten years after the book, portrays the suicide in excruciating detail.

 

 

Talking about death

There are many children’s picture books, such as The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers, and Harry & Hopper written by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Freya Blackwood, that talk about death to help parents discuss the concept with young children, possibly for the first time. When talking to kids about loss and grief the Victorian government’s Better Health Channel recommends the use of “storybooks” to explain death, stating that, “It is important to recognise children’s feelings and speak with them honestly and directly about death and grief”.

 

John Marsden’s Tomorrow series graphically depicts the effect of war on adolescents. (image via Goodreads)

 

Why is the honest and direct depiction of death in young adult novels often so controversial? Perhaps it comes from a desire to shelter young readers from topics such as war, terrorism, and human mortality – topics that young adult readers not only read about in the news and on social media, but experience. Or perhaps it is because depicting death is seen to be void of hope. But possibly the idea of hope has also shifted, away from a fairytale notion of happily ever after and towards a reality that acknowledges the existence of darkness and light.

The ConversationThere is little research on the possible benefits of discussing death with young people. For those who are yet to be affected by the death of a loved one, reading about it from the perspective of another young adult can offer a way of building resilience. For those readers who have experienced the death of a family member or friend, being able to read about the experiences of others can offer consolation. Death is an indisputable part of adolescent lives, and books can provide a place for them to reflect on its influence on life.

Erin Farrow, PhD Candidate and Academic Sessional, Victoria University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The short and the short of it: The delightful hand drawn slapstick of The Inspector and the Umbrella

Let the battle of comical wills begin (image via Vimeo (c) Maël Gourmelen)

 

We’ve all been there on a rainy day.

We go to pop up our umbrella, our flimsy but vital protection against a soacking from the elements, and end up in a battle royale to get it to perform the very task for which it was designed.

If any proof was needed that it’s often Humanity 0 Umbrella 1 or 1000, you only have to look at the pile of discarded, broken umbrellas lying in, on and around rubbish bins at railway stations and on city corners.

French animator Maël Gourmelen, who cites his mentors as contemporary master Eric Goldberg, and Disney animation legend Ward Kimball and who has worked for the likes of Disney, Dreamworks, and Aardman, and other major studios, feels your pain, and no doubt some of his own, channelling it all into the hand-drawn wonder that is The Inspector and the Umbrella.

Set on a rainy day in New York in 1952, and taking about four years to animate after-work and on weekends, it’s a thing of beauty and vivid, often slapstick humourous, emotional expression, accompanied by deliciously apt, jaunty music by Mathieu Alvado.

You can find our more about Gourmelen’s style and what led him to create this short film masterpiece at Cartoon Brew; then watch this short again, which reminds me of the work of the superlative Fritz Freleng, and marvel at the beautiful work therein, and how absolutely perfectly it captures our neverending battle with inanimate objects.

 

What’s life like when you’re Atypical? You’re about to find out

(image courtesy Netflix via IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
Atypical is a coming of age story from the point-of-view of Sam (played by Keir Gilchrist), an 18-year-old on the autistic spectrum searching for love and independence. While Sam is on his funny and emotional journey of self-discovery, the rest of his family must grapple with change in their own lives while exploring the question: what does it really mean to be “normal”? Jennifer Jason Leigh stars as Sam’s mother, Elsa, who is on a life-changing path as her son gains more independence. Michael Rapaport plays Sam’s father, Doug, who desires to better connect with and understand his son. Brigette Lundy-Paine plays Sam’s scrappy sister, Casey, and Amy Okuda plays his therapist, Julia. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

Even though we are now well on our way into the 21st century, society still poses a premium on “fitting in”.

Sure diversity is in vogue, and justifiably so since humanity is more than the hitherto-accepted one-size-fits-all approach of years past, but affirming something as whorthwile is one thing, living it out quite another, and as Sam, a young man on the autism spectrum, knows all too well, high schoolers seem to be way behind the progressive curve.

 

 

Cue a comedy series called Atypical which mines this great yawning divide between good intentions and imperfectly-realised reality to impressive comic effect.

This is life in the trenches of the day-to-day where what we want and what we end up with don’t always meet very neatly, or in the case of Sam’s romantic life, not at all.

Even his loving family don’t always get it right, but at least they’re trying. (Very trying in fact; and yes, that is this post’s token “dad joke”, thank you and goodnight.)

The central message is, and honestly we could all benefit from hearing this, “no one is normal” but knowing that, and living it out, looks like it’ll be Sam’s great challenge, and deeply enjoyable fodder for the 8 x 1/2 episodes of the first season.

Atypical premieres on Netflix on 11 August.

 

Archer and Scooby Doo in the same cartoon? Butch Hartman winningly marries up kids and adult cartoons

South Park meets Peanuts (artwork via YouTube (c) Butch Hartman)

 

Unless you want to spend the next month answering awkward questions and/or potentially scarring dear little John, Judy or Millicent for life, you’re likely not to sit them down with you to watch Family Guy, Rick and Morty or South Park.

SpongeBob SquarePants or Peanuts? Sure! Archer or The Simpsons? Not so much.

But Butch Hartman, cartoonist extraordinaire may have a fun-filled, bright and colourful solution.

In this entertaining video, he combines very adult characters like Cartman, Rick and Bo Jack Horseman with more child-friendly characters to create a child-friendly version of characters adults love for their non-PC wit and charm but who are not exactly welcome entertainment for the preschool demo.

It’s a lot of fun to watch, a reminder that you can bring Peanuts and South Park together, join up Archer and Scooby Doo, and in the process, make the world a far richer, fabulously synergistic cartoon place.

 

Game of Thrones: “Stormborn” (S7, E2 review)

“I am Jon Snow and I am not happy! seems to be the prevailing emotional motif of the moment (image (c) HBO)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND MORE WINTER, MORE SKULLDUGGERY AND SOME RATHER UNORTHODOX MEDICAL PROCEDURES

Another episode, another thrilling game of playing Rearranging Deckchairs on the Westerosi Titanic …

Yes ladies and gentlemen, and passing dragons, with the White Walkers, “growing in numbers every day” and the Night King (Vladimir Furdik) more than a little pissed off at humanity, OK everyone really, the power plays on for young and old in Westeros began to look more than a little self-involved.

The only one with his eye on the real prize is the King of the North, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), who is mindful that he can’t ignore the political machinations around him – which included a delightful raven-delivered invitation to tête-à-tête with Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) who is beginning to develop a god-like complex centred on her perceived divine right, or otherwise, to rule – but nor can he pretend that the zombie menace from the snowy wastes isn’t the main game in town.

Because it most certainly is.

The brilliance of having such a massive threat looming over every single last person in Westeros is that it frames all the other angling for position, primarily on the Iron Throne, occupied for now at least by Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), making them all moot … and yet not.

On one hand, you can’t ignore the Night King and his ghostly undead hordes; fail to see them off and all the battles, and scheming and bargaining in the world will ultimately amount to nothing.

But if you simply concentrate on that clearly overwhelming threat and don’t plan for the aftermath when you (hopefully) emerge victorious then that victory will count for nothing with a tyrant in power (or not) who might make the threat of the White Walkers pale into insignificance.

It’s quite the predicament, the burden of which is falling pretty much solely on Jon Snow who, apart from Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) who spent the episode scraping advanced greyscale off Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) in contravention of the Grand Maester’s (Jim Broadbent) express instructions (so subversive!), is the only one who knows what Westeros is truly up against.

 

“You want me to what, what now?!” Sam is not impressed (image (c) HBO)

 

So in a way you can hardly blame the rest of Westeros for going on with glorious business as usual.

In other words, plotting, killing and blowing up and making merry with the Chessboard of Real and Imagined Power.

While Cersei was trying to persuade the bannermen of House Tyrell to join her ranks in support of the monarchy and good government what ho and hurrah – honestly some of her reasoning would fit quite nicely in the mouths of Trump et al, underscoring what a darkly divisive game she is playing – Lady Olenna Tyrell was having a meeting with Daenerys, and her fellow co-conspirators Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan), pretender to the Iron Islands throne, and Dorne’s Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma), plotting the best way to take Westeros with the least amount of “ashes” production.

(The line being that Daenerys could conquer Westeros in no time flat with three whopping-big dragons but what would she have left? Lots of mess, death and yup, a s**t ton o’ ashes, which benefits no one, least of all a woman who wants to be a fair and just queen.)

It was all soundly reasoned out and made perfect sense – send the Dorne army on the Iron Islands fleet to King’s Landing to lay siege while the Unsullied (led by Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), who finally admitted his URST to Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and did something about it!) and the Dothraki do the dirty work of taking Casterly Rock, the seat of Lannisterian power.

It’s inspired, takes care of the whole “we’re being overrun by foreign barbarians!” line – not that that will stop Cersei using it of course – and sounded like as close to a slam dunk as you could hope for.

That is, until Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk), much-disputed leader of the Iron Islands, surprised the armada in the Narrow Sea and wiped them out, pretty much completely putting paid to a large slab of Daenerys’ grand plan.

Bit of a bummer Hal and one that will force Daenerys and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) back to the good old “this land is ours dammit!” drawing board, a worry since they were rather counting on using the fleet more than once, or once at all really.

Thing is with Daenerys teetering between reason and wisdom, and naked powerplaying – witness exchanges with Varys (Conelth Hill) who got schooled rather firmly thank you by his Queen (the latest ruler anyway that he’d sucked up to), and with the disgraced Red Priest Lady Melisandre (Carice van Houten) – this is not the setback she needs.

It also proves she’s not invincible.

 

Arya’s enemies soon learnt the “You said what to me?” face was the precursor to swift and sudden death (image (c) HBO)

 

Inbetween all this messing around on sea and land, Arya (Maisie Williams) found out from her friend Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey) who is the king of nominative deterministic naming, that Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Jon Snow lived; not only that but they’d kicked the Boltons out of Winterfell and were back in charge of the family silver.

So goodbye King’s Landing and an audacious plan to kill Cersei – yup that would’ve totally worked … or not – and hello Winterfell, where Sansa is temporarily in charge as Jon Snow rides south to meet his queen (that’s how Daenerys is styling it anyway; let’s see how well that goes down) and get his hands on a mountain of White Walker-killing Dragonglass.

So part-shopping, part-diplomacy and part-military strategising – what could possibly go wrong right?

As the Narrow Sea demonstrated all well, plenty; and while you can have all the confidence in the world – Cersei now has a dragon-killing spear-throwing thingy that will end the threat once and for all what ho hurrah! Or will it? – that doesn’t translate to results on the ground.

So planning 1, actual results 0 at this stage – unless you’re Euron Greyjoy and angling for a power-grasping marriage to Cersei in which case, reverse the score thank you very much – and with the White Walkers coming closer and closer, even planning may start languishing unless everyone gets on Team Let’s Not Die and Become Zombies pretty quick smart.

  • Will there warmongering and lusting for power next episode? Yes! Steely-eyed glances and awkward posturing? Of course? Will the deckchairs still be in play? Why, yes, sigh … see you in “The Queen’s Justice” … 

 

So long Mr Mayor! Family Guy farewells Adam West

(image via YouTube (c) Fox)

 

The recent death of Adam West at 88 was justifiably mourned by many, especially those who remember his scene-stealing turn as Batman in the 1960s TV series.

But what many people didn’t realise is how active West had remained up to the present day, particularly with voiceover work for Seth Marfarlane’s cartoon series Family Guy, which is about to start its 15th season in October.

For 111 episodes (2000-2017), and counting (yes there are appearances still to come), West played an hilarious fictionalised version of himself, which spoke to his much-admired and talked-about sense of mischief and great fun.

 

 

The good news, according to Entertainment Weekly, is that we haven’t seen the last of this impressive man with five more Family Guy instalments to come:

“He’s gone, but we can still enjoy his tremendous work for a while longer.

“Adam West’s legacy in the Family Guy universe is that of an incredibly kind, upbeat, and hysterical man who played an incredibly kind, upbeat, and hysterical — but also totally insane — version of himself. We will miss him greatly and truly think of him as utterly irreplaceable.”

In honour of his considerable contribution to the one of the funniest, most-imaginative, envelope-pushing animated show of our time, Family Guy has crafted a beautiful tribute to West which, as it should, will hit with all the feels and then some.

(source: Crave)

 

Now this is music #93: Wafia, Snow Culture, Daudi Matsiko, Salute, Kiran Leonard (+ Eurovision news)

 

You only have to be in this world for a very short time to realise that there a grand buffet of mixed emotions on offer.

The ecstatic joy of first love. The crushing loss of a romance gone sour. The breathless anticipation of the new and unexpected opportunities and placed to go.

You also come to appreciate pretty quickly that there are very talented, insightful people out there, such as these five fine artists, who are graced with the ability to articulate what it all means and what it feels like far better than we ever could.

So sit back and enjoy, and remember that for every life experience there is a song, and it may just change everything, or at least make it all easier to deal with.

 

“83 Days” by Wafia

 

Wafia (image via official Wafia Facebook page / photo by @823 / @takubeats)

 

There is a haunting, lush cathedral-like melody that ushers in “*3 Days” with Brisbane, Australia-based singer/songwriter Wafia’s deeply emotionally-resonant coming in shortly after to powerfully understated effect.

This is a post-break up song, that beautifully talks about how despite your best efforts, you can’t stop yourself thinking and rethinking key moments and elements of the relationship and whether your ex is thinking about you and all the things you were planning to do together.

The phrase “Are you thinking of me?” repeats over and over, tinged with regret, self-reflection and sobering mourning for what might have been and it reflects a real-life experience as you might expect:

“This song comes after someone I love wouldn’t stay. I developed an obsession with noting down the ways their absence was so loud and present. How intangible they had become. How intangible the memories I was left with are. How I reminisce on only the highest points of the situation that I know were so bad for me. How something that ceased to exist anymore could be felt constantly.” (source: Purple Sneakers)

Even given its heavy lyrical focus, this is a heartfelt, immensely beautiful song that will touch you heart and soul.

 

 

“Cold” by Snow Culture

 

Snow Culture (image via official Snow Culture Facebook page)

 

Oh lord, the goosebump-inducing atmospherics of this song are off the freaking chart.

A cover of Maroon 5 and Future’s collaborative hit, “Cold” is as chilled and appealingly bleak as you could hope for, with Swedish duo Snow Culture investing it with a lifetime’s worth of sadness and loss.

It’s an all-consuming, exquisitely-wrought production that subsumes you into the welter of emotions that overwhelm you tsunami-like when a once rich, warm and sustaining relationship dies in spectacularly awful fashion.

The bewilderment and pain is writ large with vocals that match the mood to a heartbreaking degree, reflective of how soul-crushing these slow relationship deaths can be.

 

 

“Take Me Old” by Daudi Matsiko

 

Daudi Matsiko (image via official Daudi Matsiko Facebook page)

 

Awash with organic guitar strumming, and anchored by UK artist Daudi Matsiko’s fragile, emotionally-resonant vocals, “Take Me Old” is breathlessly touching and poignant as hell.

There is a welcome mellowness to his music and his vocal delivery which opens up the emotional richness of the songs to a resounding degree that can’t help but move you.

This is music that doesn’t just wear its heart on its sleeve; its exposes every last iota of his very soul, the effect on an audience noted by The Low Downunder:

“Hear his song ‘Take Me Old’, and enter a hushed gig venue, all ears and eyes entranced by the music unfolding before them. Daudi’s music hypnotises with an economy of elements. It’s with just guitar, autobiographical lyrics, hints of saxophone and synth that he weaves a magic spell.”

This is intimate stuff, the sharing of one person’s lived experiences with others that results in the kind of shared understanding and commonality that is desperately in today’s polarised world.

 

 

“Light Up” by salute

 

salute (image via official salute Facebook page)

 

Hello jaunty introduction, finger clicking and ethereally-resonant vocals laid over a rich, slightly-warped melody – what a way to start a song!

But why not stop there? If you’re British producer, and have the vocally-rich services of Liv Dawson at your disposal, you up the ante over and over, draping the song in chest-thumpingly loud, insistent beats, a recurrent synth motif and a stunning melange of sound that together delivers up one of those head-turningly good songs that stays with you for days afterwards.

This is not a shy, retiring song by any measure, demanding in the best possible way, to be heard, acknowledged, so densely packed with aural tidbits that you have to pay attention, subsumed in so many deliciously-enticing ways.

It’s catchy as hell and yeah you’ll be pretty buoyed up and lit up by the end of a listen … or 300, inspired by the encouragement to face your fears and go for broke “somewhere in the back of the beyond”.

 

 

“Living With Your Ailments” by Kiran Leonard

 

Kiran Leonard (image via official Kiran Leonard Facebook page)

 

The Guard describe British artist Kiran Leonard’s lead single from his third album, Derevaun Seraun (due September), as “symphonic grandeur”, as apt an assessment of a song as any I’ve ever heard.

It’s a musically-intense song that thrives on the lyrical inspiration provided by The Myth of Sisyphus (Albert Camus) which had a profound on the artist growing up:

“I read it for the first time as an unhappy, nervous 17-year-old and I found it deeply moving and comforting, It’s an essay about taking the cards that we’re dealt – mortality, nothingness, uncertainty – and doing our best with them, in humour and in optimism and in open-mindedness.” (The Guard)

Wrapping up philosophical depth, emotional resonance and stunningly rich piano-driven music, “Living With Your Ailments” is thoughtful, ruminative pop music that will cut right to the soul.

And trust me, in this case, that is a very good thing.

 

 


EUROVISION SONG CONTEST NEWS!

 

We have a host city for the Eurovision Song Contest!

In news that will surprise precisely no one, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and Rádio e Televisão de Portugal (RTP) have announced that Lisbon will take on hosting duties for next year’s Eurovision, following Portugal win at this year’s contest after a brilliantly moving performance by Salvador Sobral.

Also confirmed were the dates for next year’s event – the semi-finals will take place on 8 and 10 May and the grand Final on Saturday 12 May – which will see Portugal hosting its first ever staging of the much-loved contest.

To find out all about the announcement and how happy it is officially making everyone, visit Eurovision.tv

 

Who is more human? Find out in Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water

(image via IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
From master story teller, Guillermo del Toro, comes “The Shape of Water” – an other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1963. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Hawkins) is trapped in a life of silence and isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

For most people, life is exactly as it presents itself; for good or bad, it is what it is, and while they may want it otherwise, they make do with what had been handed them.

But there are those who choose to look beyond, who are open to the new, the unexpected and the different and it is those people who often life rewards with the most transformative of moments.

Take Elisa for instance, a woman trapped in a socially-locked away, mundane life who finds her world turned upside down for the better when a secret experiment turns out to be her opening to a new and enriching life.

As with many of Del Toro’s films, such as the superlative Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water is rich, fantastical, deeply human poetry set to motion, a cinematic exploration of what it means to be human, to be connected and truly alive.

The exquisitely-beautiful trailer suggests all that and more will grace our senses, with a richness and emotional resonance that can’t help but move you.

The Shape of Water opens in USA on 8 December 2017 and in Australia on 25 January 2018.

 

Movie review: My Life as a Zucchini

(image via IMP Awards)

 

You have never witnessed someone so alone in the world as sweet little Icare aka Zucchini (Courgette in European usage) is in the opening scenes of My Life as a Zucchini, a tenderhearted, tremendously moving adaptation by Claude Barras of Gilles Paris’ 2002 novel Autobiographie d’une Courgette.

In near silence, we witness Zucchini (Erick Abbate/Gaspar Schlatter), with his shock of bright blue hair, and his wide open, deeply-expressive eyes, moving silently through his apartment, his father gone but not forgotten – he is represented as a superhero on the childlike artwork on the walls and on the kite that Zucchini treats as a sacred object – and his verbally, and possibly physically, abusive alcoholic mother knocking back in the loungeroom in front of the TV as if there’s no tomorrow.

Moving with stealth through his bare-as-bones apartment to collect the beer cans which are everywhere, Zucchini does his best not to rouse his mother to anger, something we see later is frighteningly easy to do, and leads to the tender young boy being sent to an orphanage outside of his home city.

As opening sequences go, it’s the equal of UP, as we witness a masterful setting of the scene, our insight into Zucchini’s blighted young life being offered in near wordless, profoundly-moving silence.

It’s not overplayed, unfurling with no emotional accenting, no histrionics, and a calm but empathetic sorrow for the state of Zucchini’s life, his life framed hauntingly by crayons lying near to crumpled beer cans.

His journey to the orphanage, which happens in traumatic circumstances that leave Zucchini even more withdrawn and non-communicative, goes by way of policeman Raymond (Michel Vuillermoz/Nick Offerman), a stroke of luck which sees a relationship established that eventual proves pivotal to the boy’s fortunes.

It is Raymond who takes Zucchini to the orphanage, overseen by the compassionate Mme Papineau (Monica Budde/Susanne Blakeshee) and two teachers, all of whom have not a trace of Miss Hannigan, the bleak, coldhearted tormentor of parent-less children from Orphan Annie.

 

 

In a major inverting of the accepted wisdom that home is a haven and orphanages are harbingers of horror, Zucchini actually finds himself better off; well, eventually anyway, with his opening days spent touchingly clutching one of his mother’s discarded beer cans and the kite bearing his father’s venerated image, and fending off Simon (Paulin Jaccound/Romy Beckman), the bully of the place, who it turns out isn’t so tough after all.

In quick order, Zucchini becomes a member of the extended family of orphans which includes a heartbreaking crosssection of society’s smallest discards, all of whom are reassured in every way possible that they have value and dignity.

In that respect, My Life as a Zucchini, is a perfectly-written, nuanced humanistic triumph which brilliantly portrays each child as real people dealt very bad hands, all of whom simply want to be loved and cared for, but who are far too cognisant of the ways of the world at too young an age to know that this will be handed to them by new parents any time soon.

It’s not Simon who manifests this rejection.

Alice (Estelle Hennard/Clara Young), who’s father engaged in what is deemed to be “creepy” behaviour by the children whose emotional maturity is not matched by very sketchy ideas of adult good and bad, and hilariously later on, sex (by Simon who interprets the act in ways naive and sweetly funny), hides behind her extensive bangs, only coming alone when fellow new arrival Camille (Sixtine Murat/Ness Krell) befriends her.

It’s the relationships between these kids, who somehow intuitively know that strength comes from banding together rather than descending into understandable (given their histories) Lord of the Flies survival of the fittest that grants this tissue-heavy film much of its emotional impact.

 

 

Along with Mme Papineau, the teaching staff – who are married and have a baby, prompting heartbreaking amazement from the kids that when they find out the new parents have no intention of giving up their child ever – and the policemen Raymond, who comes to play a lifechanging role in the lives of Zucchini and Camille, who bond very closely, the message here is that simple love and acceptance goes a long way to healing the lives of kids deprived of both.

My Life as a Zucchini, which benefits greatly from its stop motion methodicalness, which affords the film the time to tell its story with great care and thoughtfulness, is never preachy or emotionally-manipulative.

It remains happy to let the narratively elegant story, and the visually-appealing characters – this film is rich in bright, vivid colours, a visual accompaniment to an emotionally-rich storyline, which is never less than enchanting – do all the talking in simple, touching, very human terms.

Some might see the happy endings and largely sympathetic characters, with the exception of Zucchini’s vile mother and Camille’s coldly, avaricious aunt, as twee of lacking in any authenticity.

But the net effect is quite the opposite – a bare bones, all too real tale of what happens when poor, often destructive adult choices end up hurting children who have no rationale way of processing the pain and deprivation rained down upon them.

My Life as a Zucchini manages to be both winsomely sweet, winningly funny, and bleakly realistic, the children stark evidence that life can be cruel, but with the right touch from those who truly care, utterly redemptive too.

 

 

 

Want to join Grover Singing in the Rain? Of course you do!

(image via YouTube (c) Sesame Workshop)

 

Grover is my favourite resident of Sesame Street hands down.

He’s lovable, enthusiastic, a little impatient at times but always ready to give anything a red hot go.

Like taking on Gene Kelly’s iconic role in the evergreen musical Singing in the Rain.

Problem is that while he, and the director understand what rain looks like, everything else on the production team is a little hazy on the concept.

Which leads, as you can well imagine, to some very amusing moments …