Typically, when preparing a new version of a work the first thing that needs to be addressed is what will be different from the last time this film, play or whatever the case may be. This is not dissimilar from the approach one must take when transferring a book to film. In remaking a film, whether the changes be large or small, there should be a goal in mind.
I have not seen the 1961 version of War of the Buttons, but barring few exceptions, it’s safe to assume that the first adaptation of a tale is usually the closest to the original. The first, and only, English-language version came in 1994. The obvious changes, of course, being not only of language but of locale. The tale moves from France to Ireland.
In the third rendition of the tale, released in France last year and the United States this year, the change is a temporal one, which also greatly affects the allegorical potency of the tale.
The tale of two clans of kids in rival towns is transplanted to the south of France during the second World War. As much as possible, and as kids tend to do, they take things in stride and adapt to their reality such that this war of buttons becomes extremely important, as futile as it seems. I can see the ease of criticizing this move, but to me framing this condemnation of warfare, and the nature thereof, amidst the biggest battle ever fought is perfect. It facilitates, and minimizes, the machinations and melodramatic over-elaboration of the shift from enemy to ally among the kids because they all realize much more important things are afoot.
Taking the narrow view you can find it insulting or minimizing to compare the two in any way, but I see that as the narrow view, because the point really is that there’s no reason for the fight. At their core, the children in the neighboring town are the same as those we meet first. The same assertion can be made of any war. We’re all human underneath it all, so why fight?
This may also seem like an easy shortcut to pathos, but it’s not really. Stories about the war abound, and situational empathy will only get you so far, there has to be investment in the antagonists and protagonists and their battle for it to matter. Not only that but this film builds in the first love plot, as well as a rekindled adult romance. Due to the fact that there are many well-developed threads, I should’ve expected all the compulsory elements of the story having already seen a rendition of it prior, but it seems more fresh and not only that they literally were more organic.
In miniscule points, are there imperfections to the film, as well as areas where it could be better? Of course, but in narrative functionality and effectiveness, the areas where it matters the most; it excels greatly.