Review by Sean Boelman
Le Petit Nicolas is an iconic character of French children’s literature, and so it is only fitting that a biopic about its creators would be equally playful. Little Nicholas — Happy As Can Be is a unique blend of adaptation and biography, this is an adorable animated film, even if it probably won’t appeal to younger audiences.
The movie follows a children’s book author and illustrator who come together and form a partnership that ends up bringing to life Little Nicholas, a mischievous young lad who gets into all sorts of endearingly humorous antics. This meta-like narrative is an intriguing one, even if it isn’t as deeply explored as one would hope.
Those portions of the film which follow the literary character are anecdotal in nature, jumping between various vignettes. As a representation of what the children’s book series stood for, this is perfect, because it’s a series of wild, amusing hijinks. There is a lighthearted, airy nature to the entire affair.
On the other hand, the movie fails to make the biopic aspect of the story as compelling as it had the potential to be. It’s mostly standard biography material, following an artist who is struggling to make ends meet before he has a sudden burst of inspiration and creates his masterpiece, in this case, a character.
Although the film should be praised for its attempts at doing something ambitious with the relationship between the author and his creation, it doesn’t ever amount to as much as it could have. When Little Nicholas leaps off the page, it should be magical, but the result feels a bit overly sentimental.
That said, the animation of the movie is certainly very good, done in the visual style of children’s book illustrations. It’s a playful, simplistic approach, but it’s perfect for what this film is aiming to do. Especially during the vignette sections, it gives the movie a particular energy that will make you nostalgic for your childhood.
The humor of the film is very goofy and wholesome and will get some chuckles. Filmmakers Amandine Fredon and Benjamin Massoubre obviously have a huge respect for the history of Le Petit Nicolas, and it shows in the end product. However, it still feels like this is made more for people who grew up on these books than younger generations who could discover the magic of the character.
Little Nicholas — Happy As Can Be is a cute little animated movie with a lot of great individual elements, even if they don’t all come together as well as one would hope. It’s definitely worth checking out if you have nostalgia for the character.
Little Nicholas — Happy As Can Be debuted at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.