November 18, 2017

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Alone and Abandoned | “The Little Prince” Movie Review

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The Little Girl in The Little Prince (All photos: Netflix)

The Little Girl in The Little Prince (All photos: Netflix)

In many ways, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 The Little Prince novella defies adaptation. Even Mark Osborne, the director of the new animated version premiering on Netflix August 5, admitted to New York Magazine, “The Little Prince feels very lyrical, poetic. It’s not movie-shaped at all.” True. The elliptical, subtle, and surreal tale has more in common with the simplicity of Brecht than Brave.

First off, this isn’t your grandparents’ little prince. Osborne (Kung Fu Panda) and company have made what could be considered three films, the centerpiece of which is the retelling of Saint-Exupéry’s episodic text of a downed pilot stranded in the Sahara, who embarks on a brief friendship with a golden-haired, pint-sized prince from another planet.

However, this story line takes a backseat to a nameless, overscheduled, latchkey Little Girl, voiced by Mackenzie Foy in the English language version. (With her large eyes and bobbed hair, she looks like a little Rooney Mara.) The girl and her stressed-out single mom (Rachel McAdams) have moved to a suburb straight out of Pixar world (Up!), all in order to enroll the girl in a prestigious prep school.

While mom is off account-executing, her daughter spends her summer days alone indoors, studying to ace her exams. Mother has the Little Girl’s life planned out, even scheduling a playdate: Thursday, 1:00–1:30—next summer. (Given that the film was made in Europe, it remarkably captures a slice of preteen American life.) But, out of nowhere, an airplane propeller flies through the living room wall and, needless to say, breaks her concentration.

The blades came from the dilapidated vintage airplane belonging to the gaunt, long-bearded old coot, the Aviator (voiced by Jeff Bridges, at his most avuncular), who lives in the unkempt house next door. Curiosity gets the best of her, and without telling her mom, the girl spends her afternoons with the Aviator, who regales her with his tales of a pilot and a planet-hopping boy, searching for friendship.

The Little Prince premiering on Netflix on August 5, 2016. Photo: Netflix

The Little Girl and the Aviator

Up to this point the look of the movie is realistic, in line with contemporary computer-generated animation. Visually, the portion that adheres closer to Saint-Exupéry’s narrative stands out from the rest. The nonliteral stop-action animation of puppets and their surroundings look like decoupage cutout figures, and the sun-drenched earth tones and the azure night sky contrast with the otherwise clean and bright colors of the modern-day sequences. It’s a palate, or should I say palette, cleanser to the overall animation—more artisanal and less slick, going back to the 1960s work of Rankin/Bass Productions, though with greater detail.

However, the wandering prince’s journey comes across as a to-do list told in rapid succession as he ventures from planet to planet, lasting a skimpy 20 minutes or so, all in all. The princeling also has less personality than the book’s counterpart, who would “never let go of a question once he had asked it.” Additionally, instead of philosophical banter, the modern-day dialogue narrows down the author’s themes into bite-size messages. However, the filmmakers have forgotten one of the book’s insights: “What’s most important is invisible.” By far, it’s the look of the film, above all, that’s memorable.

The Little Prince premiering on Netflix on August 5, 2016. Photo: Netflix

The Little Prince

The film’s third and last part blends the first two halves, as characters from Saint-Exupéry’s galaxy pop up in an imposing mega-metropolis, where the Little Girl has set out on a rollicking and elaborate save-the-day mission to reunite with the Aviator and save his airplane from destruction. The padded conclusion is more in the vein of the fantastical Inside Out, which premiered at Cannes the same week as Prince, than Saint-Exupéry’s gentle and sparse prose. The pilot and the prince become further left behind, if not lost, by the time the movie turns into a romp, and in terms of screen time, the Little Girl flat-out upstages the royal wanderer.

As a result, the film comes across as an homage and extravagant promo for the book. (The production price tag is reportedly more the $75 million.) Adults will often be left wondering, where are the pilot and the prince? And though the clipped pace and the put-upon, relatable everykid will hold the attention of younger viewers, they, too, would be forgiven for thinking they are streaming the wrong movie.

Directed by Mark Osborne
108 min.
Rated PG

Streaming on Netflix, beginning on August 5.

 

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Kent Turner About Kent Turner

Kent Turner (kturner@mediasourceinc.com) edits SLJ's DVD reviews and is the editor of Film-Forward.com

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Comments

  1. I will be interested to see this film, but on the basis of this review, it sounds ghastly. From your description, it sounds to me as though its aim is simply to cash in on Exupery’s classic, without any regard for the simple complexity and wonder of the original.

    This story has been a love of mine since first I read it, decades ago. Exupery was a complex man and his books reflect his philosophical view of life and death. The Little Prince, although in the guise of a story for children and with much worthwhile wisdom as well as magic for them, is also a book for adults, in some ways, even more of a book for adults than for children.

    it sounds to me as though the intention of the author has been lost in this film version of the book and, although I don’t expect a film to be exactly as the book on which it is based, neither do I expect it to morph into another story completely. That seems to me to be a slight rather than a tribute to the author and that’s sad.

    However, that is, of course ,just my opinion.

  2. Chris Gifford says:

    I really enjoyed the film and came away thinking that the movie would help children with loss. But it was a very sweet and enjoyable movie that I would recommend.