Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s beloved 1943 novella The Little Prince finally gets an adaptation for modern audiences with this extraordinary international animated feature by a team of animation vets headed by director Mark Osborne (Kung Fu Panda), working from a screenplay by Irena Brignull (The Boxtrolls) and Bob Persichetti. While Paramount may have aborted the film’s original theatrical release days before it was scheduled, Netflix swooped in at the last moment to save the film from what might have been relative obscurity.
One would expect a film so mired in its distribution process to be unmarketable or, even more distressing, unremarkable as a whole. Primarily a French production with American Mark Osborne at the helm, The Little Prince has something for audiences of all stripes – and languages – to hold onto.
This version eschews the trappings of a standard adaptation of Saint-Exupery’s celebrated story, instead opting to present an original tale of The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy), a young girl on a mission to get into finest school, Werthy Academy, by any means necessary. For this she undergoes a rigorous plan of action to achieve her high aspirations.
Although gifted, it’s all a pre-planned gambit concocted by her workaholic single Mother (Rachel McAdams), who leaves The Little Girl’s home alone to her studies with big hopes for the bright young girl. With no time for friends, her scrupulous planning is interrupted when she meets The Aviator, the eccentric old man who lives next door, entirely by accident when his airplane propeller crashes through her home. Voiced gruffly by Jeff Bridges (who hasn’t been able to shake off this particular persona since his grumblings in Crazy Heart) her seemingly nutty, but jovial, neighbor forces his way into The Little Girl’s life.
Initially, our heroine isn’t keen on the childlike whims of The Aviator, her focus intently on books and studying, caring very little when the first page of The Little Prince’s story that floats through her open window one night. Once she opens up to the sensibilities of the misunderstood man, The Little Girl reads the subsequent pages of The Aviator’s illustrated retelling of what happened after crashing his plane into the desert, and his adventures with the Little prince from Asteroid B612.
It’s not long before The Aviator opens the bright girl’s eyes to a world of wonder that’s largely been forgotten by adults lost miring in their daily drudgery. The life of adults, it seems, is full of work with very little time for others and even less time for imagination, play, and discovery.
The film opts for a flashback recanting of the story of The Little Prince, juxtaposing the ‘real world’ narrative with that of the titular Little Prince, whom, we’re saddened to learn, has grown into a very adult Mr. Prince (voiced by Paul Rudd). Now a janitor, we’re led to believe his childhood adventures have become little more than forgotten memories, irrelevant in the real-world.
Life in The Little Girl and her mother’s new suburb, populated by rows of identical homes (except for the Aviator’s colorful and boisterous dwelling, of course) illustrates the programmatic nature of their lives. The possibilities that lay before her, at least according to her well-plotted career path, will be just as perfectly planned and efficient as her mother’s.
Disconcerting at first, the CG animation of the ‘real world’ portions seemed to shy away from the source material’s two-dimensionality, making the film appear much like other recent animated films. However, with its perfect 90-degree angled homes and stylized backdrops it represents a sharp contrast to the crude, asymmetrical child-like artwork (and stop-motion animation) of The Little Prince’s world, exalting the childlike nuisance of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s original designs in magnificent fashion.
When The Little Girl becomes upset with the downtrodden ending to The Little Prince (and a catastrophic event which I won’t spoil here) she heads on her own adventure, stuffed red fox by her side, in the Aviator’s derelict plane, sending her to unprecedented circular worlds in an effort to triumph over the greed and exploitation of a systematic adult world. This other place is depicted in grayish hues, concealed in shadows and over run by decay, with others engulfed by towering skyscrapers inhabited by white-collar employees hunched over their desks working their daily toil.
Apart from a charming and eclectic world, the film features colorful and quirky characters brought to life by an impressive cast that, besides Jeff Bridges, include Marion Cotillard, James Franco, Benicio del Toro, Bud Cort, and many more.
The Little Prince is a wonderful experience, one that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. While not a straightforward adaptation, it helps teach the consequences of truncating a child’s sense of wonder and childhood experiences, as much as it promotes the infinite manifestations of art and creation in children and the continued practice through adulthood. Much like the original story, The Little Prince is full of exciting adventure that translates well onto the screen, revealing the power of escapism that continues the curiosity and fantasy of a timeless classic.