While watching the Oscar-nominated Swiss animation "My Life as a Courgette" I thought about "The Raggy Dolls" more than once and felt that the creators must have had similar aims here. The film tells the story of Courgette, a young boy who has been raised by an alcoholic single mum and now finds himself in an orphanage. The other children have faced an array of similar abuses and must find courage and hope from one another.
A key strength of the film is the fine line it walks between depicting real darkness and maintaining a light enough tone for child viewers. There are hints that one of the children in the orphanage has been the victim of sexual abuse and writer Celine Sciamma deserves a lot of credit for portraying such a theme with the sensitivity it merits while maintaining a child-friendly rating.
The film is an adaptation of a book by French author Gilles Paris which was largely intended for teenagers but here the focus seems to have been attracting an adult audience while leaving the experience suitable for the whole family. It certainly feels like the sort of film that parents will watch together with their children rather than leaving them in front of it.
The design of the film is remarkable. The materials used, with clay for the character models but real cloth for their clothes, give the film a wonderful physicality and texture. Coupled with the small scale locations and cute designs such as the tiny wheels on all of the cars, the film has a toy-like feel which produces a protective, safe atmosphere to counter its dark subject matter.
The characters are charmingly realised, with the children given the principle roles. Their actions are often heart-breaking. One girl, whose mother has been deported, runs to the door expectantly every time a car pulls up. The children all gaze longingly at a mother comforting her son after he has fallen from a sled. It definitely works - the film is emotionally affecting but genuinely hopeful.
The film should be applauded for not tacking on a lengthy, unnecessary third act which ups the stakes and adds a conflict to be resolved - the orphanage is going to be bought by evil Mr. Grimshanks? We have to stop him children! Lots of movies would have done this to make the film more 'cinematic' but these are always the parts of the movie where the plot stops serving the characters and would have been sinfully out of place here. Having said that, the film does fall short of providing a Dardenne-esque breakthrough moment to bring our characters to a new state or realisation and the movie to even greater heights.
This is the 3rd of the Oscar nominations for Best Animated Film in 2017 that I have seen, with "The Red Turtle" and "Moana" yet to be viewed. So far I think that the Academy definitely picked the worst of the bunch with "Zootropolis". At the time of writing "My Life as a Courgette" has 50x fewer ratings than Pixar's film on IMDb. This is a shame, as the Swiss film is a considerably more measured story and innovative film and deserves a wider audience.