The Little Prince (2016)
Directed by Mark Osborne
The French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s life reads a little like the plot of “The Little Prince.” When he was young, he dreamed of becoming a pilot. But after failing his exams, he broke off an engagement with his fiancé and took a boring office job. He became a grown-up. It was only later, when he took up flying again, and then began writing full time, that he discovered a life of passion. That’s a wonderful message for children—you can grow up without becoming a grown-up. And when he put those words to paper in 1943, one of the most widely read works of children’s lit was created. Until now, it’s never been adapted into an animated feature film. But director Mark Osborne (“Kung Fu Panda”) and a stacked cast of A-list talent have changed that with this year’s “The Little Prince,” now on Netflix.
Using a narrative device not present in Saint-Exupery’s book, the film opens with a stressed out, over-worked little girl (Makenzie Foy), and the single mom (Rachel McAdams) who schedules her life like a drill sergeant. When they move next door to a kooky former aviator (Jeff Bridges), the mother tries to keep the little girl focused on the task at hand—being successful at her new, prestigious academy. But the aviator offers the little girl a tempting chance to act like a kid, as he tells her the story of The Little Prince (voiced by Riley Osborne, the director’s son).
Writers Irena Brignull and Bob Persichetti use many of the best lines from the book, but when they’re not pulling from Saint-Exupery’s beautiful prose their script gets off-message. When the little prince’s story aligns with the little girl’s life, I can see where the movie is going. But too often, “The Little Prince” fails to reach me at an emotional level, like the book did. The book spoke to me, as an emerging adult still clinging to childish whimsies. The movie doesn’t quite do the same, at least until the final act, where Hans Zimmer’s score and the carrying home of the film’s message makes a powerful push to the finish line. If only the whole movie could have had that same sense of urgency.
2016 has been a notably successful year for animated film, and “The Little Prince”—despite its unsurprising failure to live up to a novella that’s sold more copies than all but a few other books in the history of the world—continues that winning streak. The animation of the little girl’s scenes are reminiscent of “Inside Out” and “The Incredibles,” despite “The Little Prince” not being a Pixar movie, but it’s the flashback scenes that really look good. Animators used paper to create stop-motion magic that could have been used the whole time and I wouldn’t have been mad. “The Little Prince” emphasizes the magic of imagination, but the movie also reveals the magic of animation. It helps that, before Netflix acquired the rights, the Paramount-produced animated movie was days from being released in theaters just like any other animated movie. But lucky for Netflix subscribers, it didn’t—now, we get to see it for free.
“Growing up is not the problem,” the aviator tells the little girl, “forgetting is.” Now, the story of the Little Prince will live on forever not just in the pages of a book, but on the screens of people around the world. Forgetting won’t be an option.