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Nostalgia is a hot commodity right now in the world of media and art. People love to remember the films and shows that they watched back in the day when they were kids. Being able to relive the memories from back then has its charm, but there is a downside to it all. You know once something is popular, you see companies and studios want to capitalize on it. We get re-releases of games, shows, legacy sequels to said shows and films, and after a bit, it loses its appeal. Remember for a few years in the late 2000s and early 2010s when retro gaming was popular? Sure it’s still around, but when that fad died, it died hard. Nostalgia has now become sort of a, well, toxic might not be the correct word, but it has had more of a negative lens when you see something that is from the past brought back up again. Not because there is a new direction to take said IP, but because it’s a safe bet that makes money. It sucks, because there are a few IP-driven films that just so happen to have the right creatives and teams to tackle it in a way that doesn’t make you feel like you are being sold an advertisement. It happens, and it’s sad we can’t always have this happen. Because if we did, we could get something like Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be.
This film is directed by Amandine Fredon and Benjamin Massoubre. It’s written by Anne Goscinny, Michel Fessler, Benjamin Massoubre, Rene Goscinny, and Jean-Jacques Sempe. Obviously, it’s based on the comic by Rene Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempe. The story follows the two creators meeting up one day for a relaxing lunch and figuring out what to do next for their work together. They end up crafting a story about a little boy and his life with his family, classmates, and everything that you would think revolves around the life of a little boy. And that boy’s name? Nicholas. The story then unravels into a mixture of both Nicholas stories being told by the two, and the two creators recollecting about their own childhood.
What’s truly and absolutely refreshing about this film is how it’s a biopic, but it isn’t a traditional biopic that you see around award season. This isn’t watching the two creators of the comic start from the very bottom to the top. It has the story beats of the two finding a comic/character to work off of, the personal drama, but you never see it as a typically produced film of this type. Normally we have their humble or rough beginnings, their rise to popularity, their downward spiral, and either a happy ending, a sad ending, or a sort of happy ending that’s only happy due to how the filmmakers crafted it when it really isn’t that happy. What we have here is a film that isn’t really interested in telling a condensed story of their lives. It’s nice, since we have seen so many of these films pop up during award season, and they aren’t all that great or interesting. It’s like watching anime recap films when we already saw the story told as a TV series.
With this film, the main goal was to tell a story about the two creators, Rene and Jean-Jacques, and the two of them recollecting their own childhoods while weaving actual stories from the Little Nicholas comics, and how they connect to how the characters were feeling at the time. It actually lets the creators be actual people, and while this is a mostly positive and happy-vibed film, it doesn’t shy away from sharing the backgrounds of both creators, and they are handled with tact and respect. Just because there are some dark elements, it doesn’t mean the film needs to go all in on the visuals and make for a stressful watch. You can also see the connection between the stories that Little Nicholas has as means of expressing what childhood was like in their mind or what they wanted or wished their childhood would be. It’s a very down-to-earth film with how the story unfolds and how the comic-based stories are revealed. It results in some truly wonderful moments, hilarious comedic sequences, and heartwarming and heartbreaking moments in the comics and real-life parts. What works about the comic and real-life parts and when they mix together is how the children act like real honest-to-goodness children. They can be chaotic, loud, excitable, nervous, petty, energetic, selfish, obnoxious, unreliable, and happy. The way the creators talk to Nicholas is fascinating to see them open up about their own happiness, memories, and struggles, and see how Nicholas responds to them. It’s a film that not only respects the source material, but also respects the creators and shows how human everyone is.
The animation is a delightful combination of joy and whimsy. It reminds me of the flashback sequences of Only Yesterday mixed with the visual flair of Ernest & Celestine. The soft watercolor tones and the line work feel like they were filled in after the colors were put in place. There is a faint fog of memory when it comes to the comic sequences and the memories from the two men. If you love the animation from Ernest & Celestine or Benjamin Renner’s The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales, then you will love what they did with this film. Even the two different designs of the humans and the comic characters never feel out of place. The fact you see Nicholas with the two men together and they don’t have contrasting designs really makes the world this film draws/paints feel alive and lived in. Sure, the comic world is more cartoonish, but it’s not like the “real” world doesn’t have its own cartoony moments. That’s the beauty of animation. You can do all of this without it being distracting. The music is gorgeous and is composed by Ludovic Bource who also did the music for films like The Artist. It brings an old-school Hollywood tone to the overarching composition and it helps that the main theme of the film is inspired by and uses a song from Ray Ventura and The Collegians called Qu’est-ce qu’on Attend. The voice cast also does a stellar job with the two men being voiced by Alain Chabat, Laurent Lafitte, and the iconic Nicholas being voiced by Simon Faliu.
Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be is, simply put, a wondrous ball of delight. It captures the feelings of childhood, memories, friendships, and kindness, and wraps it all up with a bow made of incredible 2D animation. This film set out to find its own way to obtain happiness and it did so with flying colors with it being a faithful adaptation of the comics, but also of the legacy of the two men who brought this iconic series to life. Unfortunately, there is no real way to watch this film unless you saw it during its big festival run, and without knowing when it will hit VOD or even get a physical release, it’s tough to know when and where to watch it, which sucks! This is one of the best films from 2022 that knew how to handle and approach nostalgia better than a few of the big award hopefuls that we will see duke it out at the Oscars. Well, either way, whoever gives it a proper physical release or a digital release should make sure everyone sees it because it’s just that darn good. Now then, next time, we will talk about yet another festival film that won me over last year, and I am hoping it gets a proper US release with Titina.