A star-studded cast helps this loose adaptation of a classic story gain a solid foothold in the landscape of modern animated features.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novella The Little Prince holds a special place in the heart of anyone who had it read to them as a child. It has since been adapted countless times over dozens of formats. What makes Mark Osborne’s animated feature rendition so endearing is that it captures the love and respect for the source material, while still being a great animated film accessible to all ages.
The set-up is mundane, but immediately engaging. A little girl (Mackenzie Foy) and her mother (Rachel McAdams) move to a new house in a new neighborhood near the elite high school her mother so desperately needs her to attend. It becomes clear her mother runs her life, with a charmingly intricate life-plan the girl must follow to the minute in order to achieve her (mother’s) goal. This new house, however, is next door to an old Aviator (Jeff Bridges), who narrates the film, and his knack for new friends eventually gets the best of the girl. Her work is left untouched, with the story of The Little Prince in its place. The film makes it easy to side with the girl — the moral dilemma of the situation is fairly unifying — especially as she is so darn cute and clever. Hollywood stars populate the rest of the cast with Marion Cotillard, James Franco, Ricky Gervais, and Paul Rudd all playing small yet memorable roles.
Saint Exupéry’s Little Prince exists as a story written by The Aviator as a document of his encounter with The Prince. These segments take on a gorgeous stop motion look that contrasts the standard Pixar feel of the rest of the movie. These mostly serve as a refreshing break from the totalitarian state The Little Girl’s mother runs, however there is a section near the half-hour mark that could have done with less rapid switching between the two. The only other negative that can be associated with these sequences is that it makes the rest of the film look bland in comparison. Style-wise, that is, as the movie totally holds its own as a self-contained narrative.
The friendship between the girl and The Aviator pushes the mother-daughter relationship to a breaking point. The girl’s head has been filled with imagination and creativity for once in her life and her mother feels ignored. To the point where the absent father is mentioned, but all family drama is cast aside with a simple “he was too busy to take care of us.” The conflict at the core of the film divides grown-ups and children into two distinct categories before dissolving those walls to teach us the great lesson that we must all leave the nest. The Little Prince is an accomplishment in this sense. A piece of fiction about both growing up and letting go that never feels overly preachy.
The film takes a telegraphed turn a little over halfway through that is quite cool, so I will not spoil it here. All that should be said is this is where fans of the original will be very pleased at the route Osborne chose to take this specific story. It also showcases the most zany characters and delivers the funniest and most exciting sequences of the film. That section feels like a great third act, but one that is perhaps too long. Running 15 minutes longer than the typical animated film, by the time credits roll it felt The Little Prince could have used some more trimming. But alas, that is a minor hiccup in a film that has the power to captivate so completely.
The Little Prince is a creative adaptation of an endearing classic. But it is more than that. It is a startling reminder that growing up doesn’t have to mean losing the spark of youth. Fans of the source material and newcomers alike are sure to enjoy themselves in this starlit fantasy.
The Little Prince comes to theaters and Netflix on August 5th.