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School days are pretty unforgettable, and though this film is set in an idealised late 1950's France, the gently funny stories of Petit Nicolas and his school friends will resonate with most British viewers I feel, in this, a fantastic adaption of a classic French children's book written by René Goscinny. The iconic illustrations by the well known cartoonist Sempé set the scene at the start for that rarest of things, a French film that is both PG and of appeal to all.
"Le Petit Nicolas" - for some reason the "le" has been removed from the title for the British release of this film, was released in 2009 and is currently available for £7.25 with subtitles. It's a family comedy with some darker moments, which sees the main character, eight year old Nicolas (pronounced "Nick-oh-la" in French) worrying about the possibility of his perfect life being transformed by what he thinks is the possible arrival of a sibling. By a series of misunderstandings he starts to think that he will be ousted from the house by a new brother or sister and so the scene is set for he and his friends to rally together to come up with all sorts of schemes to sort the issue.
I've read a couple of the books in the past and felt that Nicolas was well cast and that the humour that is ever present in the stories was transferred well to the screen. The bright colours and perfect world are a little reminiscent of "Pleasantville" in their colour and perfectness and all the more enjoyable for their Frenchness. Nicolas' band of buddies were also in keeping with the book - you don't have to be familiar with the stories to enjoy stereotypical friends - there's the clever one (Agnan), who no one can hit as he wears glasses, the food obsessed fattie (Alceste), the rich spoiled one (Geoffrey) and even the class dunce (Clotaire). The scenes featuring the children are perhaps the most amusing as they come up with all kinds of plans, such as making a magic potion to sell to other children (in a nod to Goscinny's other work the iconic Obelix and Asterix) and try to clean up Nicolas' parents house so they will want to keep him with hilarious results. The parents too have their funny moments, Nicolas' father, played by Kad Merad, is either vying with his neighbour or trying to impress his boss. Nicolas' mother, played by Valerie Mercier, who is probably even known to British audiences is the perfect 1950's mother, beloved by Nicolas but prone to getting things ever so slightly wrong and winning my heart when she keeled over after one too many vin in the middle of a dinner designed to impress her husband's boss that goes disasterously wrong.
It's true that there's not much substance to this film, it's not thought provoking at all and the France it portrays does not, and probably never did exist, however it's all essentially feel-good, despite some of the darker themes, and as long as you are of an age to be able to follow the subtitles I would defy anyone to not enjoy it. I've shared the film with a number of children and the 18 year olds have been as charmed by it as the 13 year old ones, even the music has a certain "je ne sais quoi" and the child cast manage to stay on the right side of precocious whilst working the "shorts, knobbly knees and marbles in the playground" look really well.
I would unreservedly recommend this film to all Francophiles, teachers working with children; (there is a wealth of teaching resources available on TES for making watching it an educational as well as fun experience), and would also say that this film is of wider appeal too. For ninety minutes of pure escapism, it doesn't get much better than this, whatever the language. Le Petit Nicolas is a great family film.