Thursday, March 13, 2014

Le Petit Nicolas, Computerized?

Just so you know, it’s not just Hollywood that messes with good books.

While I was on my mission in France, I was introduced to the “Petit Nicolas” books by Rene Goscinny and J.J. Sempe, and I loved them. Goscinny writes them with charm, definitely capturing the cadence and malapropisms of a young French speaker. As I read them in my own pidgin French, I could hear the voices of Nicolas and his friends, faithfully recreated as the voices of children.

And Sempe’s drawings, well, perfect. Though the Petit Nicolas books aren’t familiar to Americans, Sempe’s art has adorned enough New Yorker covers to be familiar to us in that way.

So imagine my joy when I discovered an animated version of the stories on YouTube.

And boy do they suck.

This is the first one I watched. They changed the story. Meme – Grandmother – was not involved in the story at all, as far as I remember. But more important than that – gone is the point of view of the story through the eyes of Nicolas. We’re presented instead with a glass wall between us and the characters. Perhaps that’s the simpler way to get the stories across in real-time, rather than told through recollection, but the material suffers. The humor in Goscinny’s characters come in the words and phrases the boy Nicolas uses to tell his tales, less so in the tales themselves.

Here’s a sample from the story this episode appears to be based on, “A La Bonne Franquette,” or “Living Simply.”

Mama! I cried. You forgot to set a place at the table!

Mama gave a little scream, and turned around quickly.

Nicolas! Mama said, I’ve already told you not to scream like that in the house, and not to enter the house like a little savage. You scared me, and I don’t need anything else to make me more nervous.

So I asked Mama to forgive me. It’s true she was really nervous, but then I explained again that there was a place missing at the table.

No, she told me, we’re not missing a place, Mama said. Go do your homework, and leave me in peace.

But we are missing a place, I said. There’s me, there’s Papa, there’s you, there’s Mr. Moucheboume, there’s Mrs. Moucheboume, that makes five and there’s only four plates at the table, so we when we go to eat, if you, or Papa, or Mr. Moucheboume, or Mrs. Moucheboume don’t have a plate, there’s going to be trouble!

This is, of course, my weak effort to translate the jibber-jabber from the French, but it’s clear that the childlike quality – not to mention the story as a whole – has been sacrificed a bit, which is a shame, seing as it’s that jibber-jabber that brings the stories their most endearing quality.

I understand, however, the film based on the stories is better. I’d dearly love to see it.

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