×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Le petit Nicolas

Film reps the first screen adaptation of a popular series of French children's books from the '60s.

With:
With: Valerie Lemercier, Kad Merad, Sandrine Kiberlain, Francois-Xavier Demaison, Maxime Godart, Vincent Claude, Charles Vaillant, Victor Carles, Benjamin Averty, Germain Petit Damico.

Although it sounds like a possible title for a Sarkozy biopic, “Le petit Nicolas” actually reps the first screen adaptation of a popular series of French children’s books from the ’60s. Unfortunately, while the original tales of the titular, mischievous 7-year-old were enriched by author Rene Goscinny’s witticisms and illustrator Jean-Jacques Sempe’s energetic sketches, helmer Laurent Tirard’s live-action version is just the opposite: heavy-handed, overtly cute and rarely funny despite an onslaught of expensive visual gags. This hefty Franco-Belge co-production should score with homeland families and fans; overseas coin will be more petit than grand.

The appeal of the original books by Goscinny (who also created the “Asterix” comicbooks) and New Yorker artist Sempe was that, not unlike “The Simpsons,” they always functioned on two levels: Kids could enjoy the pranks of Nicolas and his buds, while parents could appreciate the authors’ keen insights into the hypocrisy of adults and the naively cruel way in which children tend to treat one another.

The illustrated stories — first published in the French and Belgian press and then assembled into several volumes in the early ’60s — were also distinguished by their simplicity, which is far from the case here. Instead, writer-director Tirard (“Moliere”) and co-scribes Gregoire Vigneron (“Changing Sides”) and Alain Chabat (“The Science of Sleep”) try to pack in as many yarns and vignettes as possible, relying on techniques (especially cutaways and a whimsical voiceover) from the Jean-Pierre Jeunet filmmaking handbook to solder it all together.

Major plotline focuses on young Nicolas (Maxime Godart, adorable but expressionless), who fears that his wage-slave dad (Kad Merad, “Welcome to the Sticks”) and manic housewife mom (Valerie Lemercier, “Avenue Montaigne”) are going to have a second child. He enlists his coterie of school chums — including gluttonous Alceste (Vincent Claude), bossy Rufus (Germain Petit Damico) and clueless Clotaire (Victor Carles) — to raise funds and hire a contract killer to do away with the eventual newborn.

The catch is that there’s no new baby on the way, and this, like a handful of other quid pro quos scattered throughout, is the basis of most of the humor. None of it is very amusing, save for an extended dinner sequence in which Lemercier and Merad reveal how well they can pull off a joke when it’s not overheated from the start.

The clan of boys, and especially Nicolas himself, are too impeccably coiffed, dressed and mannered to resemble the ruffians depicted in Sempe’s drawings, or anything like real kids at all. Along with Francoise Dupertuis’ flamboyant sets and tidy lensing by Denis Rouden (“MR 73”), the result is a look of squeaky-clean postwar nostalgia, closer to Christophe Barratier’s “The Chorus” than to Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows,” which was set around the same time period.

Le petit Nicolas

France-Belgium

Production: A Wild Bunch Distribution (in France) release of a Fidelite Films, IMAV, Wild Bunch, M6 Films, Mandarin Films (France)/Scope Pictures (Belgium) production, with participation of Orange Cinema Series, M6, la Region Wallonne. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier. Directed by Laurent Tirard. Screenplay, Tirard, Gregoire Vigneron, Alain Chabat, based on the "Le petit Nicolas" books by Rene Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempe.

Crew: Camera (color), Denis Rouden; editor, Valerie Deseine; music, Klaus Badelt; production designer, Francoise Dupertuis; costume designer, Pierre-Jean Larroque; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS), Ricardo Castro, Paul Heymans, Thomas Gauder; assistant director, Alan Corno; casting, Agathe Hassenforder, Gerard Moulevrier. Reviewed at UGC Cine Cite Les Halles 10, Oct 1, 2009. (In Rome Film Festival -- Alice in the City.) Running time: 91 MIN.

With: With: Valerie Lemercier, Kad Merad, Sandrine Kiberlain, Francois-Xavier Demaison, Maxime Godart, Vincent Claude, Charles Vaillant, Victor Carles, Benjamin Averty, Germain Petit Damico.

More Film

  • Film Ratings Overhauled in the U.K.,

    Film Ratings Overhauled in the U.K. with Tougher Restrictions on Sexual Content

    The body that oversees film ratings in the U.K. is tightening its age restrictions and giving movies with certain types of sexual content older age ratings. The British Board of Film Classification said the changes were in response to public demand after a consultation that took in the views of over 10,000 people in the [...]

  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame

    'Hunchback of Notre Dame' Live-Action Reboot in the Works at Disney

    Disney is in early development on a live-action “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” movie, based on Disney’s animated film and Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “Notre-Dame de Paris.” Playwright David Henry Hwang is attached to write the script, with Mandeville Films and Josh Gad set to produce. Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz will pen the music. [...]

  • Bill Skarsgard and Eliza Scanlen

    'It' Star Bill Skarsgard and 'Sharp Objects' Actress Eliza Scanlen Join Netflix's 'The Devil All the Time' (EXCLUSIVE)

    “It” star Bill Skarsgard and “Sharp Objects” breakout Eliza Scanlen will star in Antonio Campos’ adaptation of “The Devil All the Time,” which Netflix has officially acquired for distribution. Skarsgard and Scanlen join an all-star cast that includes Tom Holland, Chris Evans, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson and Tony Award winner Gabriel Ebert, who attached themselves [...]

  • READY PLAYER ONE

    How Writer-Crew Collaborations Are Changing the Script for the Creative Process

    In traditional filmmaking, once a script is written, the director and department heads break it down and figure out the costs and logistics of production. But if the screenwriter collaborates during the creative process with key crew members, the entire production can benefit.  Such collaboration offers the prospect of help on many fronts. For example, [...]

  • FICG TV Pitchbox Confirms Fox, Alazraki,

    FICG TV Pitchbox Swells Key Company Attendance

    Fox Networks Group Latin America (FNGLA), Alazraki Films, EndemolShine Boomdog and Fabula have confirmed their attendance at the inaugural FICG TV Pitchbox, the new co-production market of one of Latin America’s biggest film events, Mexico’s Guadalajara International Film Festival (FICG). They join previously announced participants HBO Latin America and Turner Latin America (FNGLA). More attendees, [...]

  • Alamode Acquires Lone Scherfig’s ‘The Kindness

    Alamode Acquires Lone Scherfig’s Berlin Opener ‘The Kindness of Strangers’

    Munich-based Alamode has taken German and Austrian rights to Lone Scherfig’s “The Kindness of Strangers,” ahead of the picture’s opening-night gala screening at the Berlin Film Festival next month. Alamode acquired the rights from London-based HanWay Films, which is handling worldwide sales. Entertainment One is distributing the film in Canada and SF Studios in Scandinavia. [...]

  • Voltage Pictures to Produce Airborne Thriller

    Voltage Pictures to Produce Airborne Thriller 'Blackwing' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Voltage Pictures will produce and fully finance screenwriter David Loughery’s latest thriller “Blackwing,” Variety has learned exclusively. The company will introduce “Blackwing” to buyers at the upcoming European Film Market at the Berlin Film Festival, which opens Feb. 7. Nicolas Chartier and Dominic Rustam are producing, and Jonathan Deckter is executive producing for Voltage Pictures. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content