This animated feature by Claude Barras was considered classy enough to earn itself an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Film earlier this year, alongside the likes of The Red Turtle – and it’s won a whole clutch of awards across Europe. For a variety of reasons, I don’t feel it’s in quite the same league as its Oscar stablemate, though few would deny the attractions of the quirky stop-frame animation, and even fewer would argue that its heart isn’t in the right place.
Icare (voiced by Gaspard Schlatter) is an eight-year-old boy who has been neglected by his alcoholic mother and (in a beautifully understated scene) is also partially responsible for her death. Since nobody knows what happened to his father, he is taken to an orphanage, where, because of his preference for being called ‘Courgette’ (the nick-name his mother gave him), he quickly comes to the attention of Simon (Paulin Jaccoud), the school’s resident bully. But pretty soon, the arrival of Camille (Sixtine Murat) gives Icare something more positive to focus his attentions on; meanwhile, Raymond (Michel Vuillermoz), the policeman who assigned Icare to the orphanage in the first place, is starting to bond with him…
The film certainly deals with an interesting subject, but it never really pushes the envelope far enough to hammer home its points, with the result that, ultimately, it’s no more hard-hitting than your average Jacqueline Wilson novel. Though the script occasionally flirts with controversy – the children discussing sex; Camille’s hard-hearted aunt trying to take custody of her niece so she can make money on the deal – the problems are too easily resolved to totally convince and, with a running time of just over sixty minutes, there really isn’t enough room to fully explore the dramatic possibilities, which makes the film feel rather like an over-extended ‘short.’
In the end, it’s undeniably charming and the stop-motion work is exquisite (a sequence where Icare, Camille and Raymond visit a funfair is a particular stand out), but you can’t help feeling that it could have been so much more than that.