In the northern reaches of Canada and the United States, children and tweens alike relish the freshly printed wonder of an Archie comic. Kids from around the block would line up at their local Walmart — with a few leftover nickels and dimes in hand, as they would purchase the latest editions to add to their collection of hand-drawn escapades. Sometimes, my friends reminisce hoarding the Sunday papers; scavenging for the remnants of Schulz, Watterson, and Keane. As much as we dismiss the literary legacy of these seemingly simple drawings, the comics themselves are inarguably essential to the development and influence of any given generation. Comics, as a distinguished medium, are integral to the contribution and development of our pop culture.
Le Petit Nicolas, drawn to life by René Goscinny & Jean-Jacques Sempé, was received in France with the same amount of fanatical exuberance as a Peanuts strip in North America. In the world of French literature, Le Petit Nicolas showcased stories about the commonwealth; a work of nuclear family fiction which stood the test of time due to its playful depiction of innocence. Since the creation of Nicolas and his ragtag team of elementary rascals, we are now bestowed with the recent release of a new animated film. Akin to the original texts, the latest film in the ongoing saga of Nicolas' legacy is simultaneously youthful and accessible — a determined continuation which bravely examines the artistic process behind the renowned comic-strips.
Little Nicholas – Happy As Can Be is an animated delight which utilises an innovative structure to implement the beloved cartoon character into the film's love-letter to creation. The piece is an unorthodox recreation of Gascinny's and Sempé's long-withstanding artistic process. Throughout the film, a visual barrier is created to differentiate the lush and adolescent water-colour world of the comic-book text with the firmly painted exteriors which surround the cartoonist's developmental process. We see a distinction between page and screen, as the film also tackles the cartoonists own plights & fears which surround their work, perceptions, and tribulations as professionals.
The film works most effectively when it tackles larger themes and visual motifs, often departing from the prominent selling point of the film. The real treasure at the core of this latest Petit Nicolas adventure isn't the titular character himself; but rather his creators. Tackling subplots revolving around anti-semitism and domestic abuse, the film nonchalantly demonstrates a sincere respect and maturity for Gascinny's and Sempé's undertaking. In many regards, the creation of Petit Nicolas is an exhumation of trauma; brought vividly to life within the film's visual barriers.
As a result, the vignette structure slowly deteriorates. Each sketch with the titular hero, whilst undeniably endearing, pales in comparison with the heavy-hearted maturity and nuance of the aforementioned scenes. In a corporate minded world often misguided by the money-hungry desires of corporate executives, it's fascinating to finally critique a franchise film which exemplifies the strongest traits of its given universe. The irony behind Little Nicholas – Happy As Can Be is that its major selling point is also the film's major detractor; a humbling feature about the power of creation that is needlessly elongated with filler.