This year’s Golden Globe nominees for Best Animated Feature include a Polynesian wayfinder, a two-stringed guitar player, a bunny cop, a singing koala bear and … a talking zucchini? No, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association didn’t randomly recognize the latest VeggieTales adventure. Nestled amid high-profile Hollywood nominees like Moana, Kubo and the Two Strings, Zootopia, and Sing is My Life as a Zucchini, a coming-of-age story about a young orphan by Swiss animator Claude Barras, making his feature film debut after a lengthy career helming cartoon shorts. Premiering to strong reviews at the Cannes Film Festival in May, My Life as a Zucchini was picked up for a domestic release by GKids, the independent distributor that specializes in cultivating a passionate audience — and serious awards traction — for international animated productions.
Like fellow nominee Kubo–which was made by the Oregon-based studio Laika–Zucchini has been brought to life through the tactile magic of stop-motion animation. Where Kubo’s adventure involves moon gods and origami samurais though, this boy’s experiences are less fantastical, if no less dramatic. Raised by an alcoholic mother, young Icare, aka Zucchini, is deposited in an orphanage after her accidental death. There, he struggles to fit in with the other children, clashing with the brash Simon, while falling head over heels for resident tomboy Camille. Although Barras’s simple puppets are more reminiscent of stop-motion’s Claymation past than Laika’s elaborate designs — think Gumby rather than Coraline — that approach suits this low-key story, which addresses childhood fears of abandonment and bullying in a whimsical yet eminently relatable way.
General audiences won’t have the opportunity to see My Life as a Zucchini until February, when GKids plans to open it in limited release around the country. But the 66-minute film will continue to screen for awards bodies in the run-up to the Oscar nominations, along with the studio’s two other 2016 awards hopefuls, April and the Extraordinary World and Miss Hokusai. It’s a strategy that’s been extremely effective for GKids — they’ve scored double nominations in the past two awards cycles. (Last year, Boy & the World and When Marnie Was There were among the five nominees, while in 2014, Song of the Sea and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya famously took one of the spots that otherwise might have gone to The Lego Movie.) Clearly, being a zucchini isn’t a bad thing.