Much care has gone into this fun and delicate adaptation of the best-selling series of French children’s books.
Back in 2005, publisher Phaidon released some plush English editions of 'Le Petit Nicolas', a best-selling series of French children’s books which began their run in 1959. Part of the charm of writer René Goscinny’s tales of a scampish schoolboy and his chums is derived from artist Jean-Jacques Sempé’s captivating illustrations, which this film’s Franco-Belgian producers have sensibly declined to emulate, instead creating a world full of colour and incident.
From the opening moment when the boys pose for an old-fashioned school photo, it’s clear we’re in that world of childhood cherished by conservatives – the one that never really existed. The vignettes of Goscinny’s originals are here given form in Nicolas’ fear that he’s about to get a little brother. His schoolmates’ attempts to help him include a scheme inspired by Goscinny’s own Asterix books.
The film happily eschews Amélie-like winsomeness – the kids stay largely on the right side of cute – and for the most part, director Laurent Tirard encourages his cast to pass up desperate mugging for deadpan glances. Nicolas’ parents (played by Valérie Lemercier and Kad Merad) may not have got the memo, but Sandrine Kiberlain (so great in 2009’s Mademoiselle Chambon) hits the right notes as the boys’ teacher, despite the adults having less to work with than the kids.
Tirard is currently working on the latest Asterix adventure and was the writer of rom-com I Do, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Alain Chabat, who contributes to this script. Much care has gone into this delicate creation, from the lovely title sequence inspired by Sempé’s original drawings, through Klaus Badelt’s sprightly soundtrack, to cameos from such veterans of French cinema as Michel Galabru and Anémone.
Petit Nicolas may be too wilfully anachronistic for young tastes, and it may only be of interest to those non-French speakers who forked out for Phaidon’s plush books. But those happy few are in for a treat.
Released in Scotland only July 13 and UK wide August 24.
It’s that old conundrum: how to bring a much loved character to the big screen?
A diverting alternative to more high-octane kiddie fare.
Needs sharper dialogue and some more original scenarios.