Dec 21, 2022
By Kaveh Jalinous
Simple coming-of-age tales, beautiful watercolor animation and profound ruminations on creating art all come together stunningly in Little Nicholas: Happy As Can Be, a delightful 82-minute tonic of a film.
Adapted from the acclaimed 1960s comic book series of the same name, written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Jean-Jacques Sempé, the film is divided into two narratives. The first follows Goscinny (voiced by Alain Chabat) and Sempé (voiced by Laurent Lafitte) as they set out to create the Little Nicholas book series in the 1950s, meeting over coffee at Parisian cafés or at each other’s apartments to discuss small details like character names, plot ideas and background settings. The second, spread across the film in perfectly-sized doses, presents several vignettes taken from the books themselves, as the young Nicholas (voiced by Simon Faliu) and his rag-tag group of friends find themselves involved in scuffles at school, trouble at camp, or encounters with girls. The person that binds these narratives together is the invented character of Nicholas himself, who, after coming alive from the page, often interrogates his creators about their ideas or what drove them to become artists, bridging the gap between his experiences and theirs.
Little Nicholas’ two-tiered narrative is its greatest success. Having the audience first follow Goscinny and Sempé as they build a story from scratch contextualizes and elevates all of the comic book vignettes that follow, making them feel like so much more than simple open-and-closed tales. The decision also makes the film belong to the two creators just as much as it belongs to Nicholas. During the little moments between vignettes, the film often dives into the complicated backstories of the two artists, driven by the harsh realities of unstable childhoods and wartime living, among other themes. By understanding what led the artists to create Little Nicholas, specifically as a representation of a childhood unplagued by any serious issues, the film posits many questions and provides many themes on the power of making art. As exemplified by the film itself, what starts as a specific form of catharsis for creators can lead to a completely different feeling of catharsis for audiences, a fact that helps explain why we constantly find ourselves drawn to art as a form of escape.
Little Nicholas’ animation style, primarily reliant on watercolor, is the perfect visual accompaniment to the film’s breezy narrative. The animators’ minimalist usage of colors not only makes each shot look as if it was ripped out from the books themselves, but also draws heightened attention to both the forms of compositions and the contrast between filled-in spaces and empty ones. The simple everyday animation, especially paired with the film’s narrative, reinforces that Little Nicholas is for everyone. Each audience member, regardless of age, will walk away with different, equally powerful takeaways suitable to their own needs, emphasizing the always-important message that animation is a style of film, not a genre. (https://buffalo8.com/project/little-nicholas/)
Author rating: 7/10
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