Despite some troublesome storytelling, the most recent filmic adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novella manages to maintain altitude on the strength of its heart.
Please allow me to begin with a brief, personal anecdote, because if it were not for Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novella, The Little Prince, I am not certain I would have the best friend I do today. Thus, my thoughts on the film are colored by my affections and memories of him.
Despite lacking any previous acting experience, I auditioned for a main stage theater production as a college sophomore. Though I did not obtain a part, I received a callback, which was enough to inspire me to audition for a smaller, student-run production. It was then that I met Tim.
Though words can describe anyone, they always fail to properly detail the joy I experience when I’m in Tim’s presence; I have yet to meet someone who lives life more fully than him. His numerable emotions are intense and infinite, but his passion for what he loves remains his most definitive quality. The Little Prince is his favorite book––he loves it so dearly he tattooed the iconic image of the boa constrictor digesting an elephant whole to his breast––and when he came across a theatrical adaptation of the story, he decided to helm his own production.
(hit the JUMP to find out how that went)
Tim’s perfectionist tendencies resulted in a troublesome pre-production. He decided he did not like the adaptation, and contracted a screenwriter to pen him another. He then decided her approach was not satisfactory either, and that his only course of action was to write it himself, much to the frustration of the screenwriter and his production manager. I was cast as The Aviator, and we spent many futile hours together in an attempt to iron a salvageable performance out of my subpar acting technique.
In this time, we discussed the source material’s themes––which continue to guide his life now––including, but not restricted to, the importance of seeing life through the eyes of childhood, and allowing the world to reveal its endless wonders to those willing to look.
Maybe the above feels long-winded and unnecessary to you, but I hope it reveals the unique and nuanced approach I reckoned with during my viewing of The Little Prince––one that told me this does not need to be a film reliant on a riveting storyline, but rather one dedicated to the exploration of universal themes and emotions. Perhaps this benefitted my experience, as the storytelling and pacing is, at best, unconventional; the film creates a previously non-existent protagonist, known as The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy), who serves as surrogate during our glimpse into the magical story many know already. In fact, an entirely new reality materializes, as our hero resides in an alternate dimension in which efficiency and essentiality are lauded above all else.
After The Little Girl fails to receive admittance to a prestigious, but sterile, academy, her Mother (Rachel McAdams) relocates them to a neighborhood within the school’s district to assure her attendance: “You’re going to Werth Academie whether they want you or not!” They purchase a house that is only on the market because it is adjacent to that of the neighborhood’s spirited sore thumb: The Aviator (Jeff Bridges). The Mother attempts to regiment her daughter’s summer with strict and meticulous scheduling, but The Little Girl quickly finds herself distracted and enthralled by the jubilant eccentric next door, who tells her the story of The Little Prince, and imparts lessons on a protagonist whose stifled life deserves some much needed spice.
Though the storylines of The Little Girl and The Little Prince intertwine with relative ease, it is occasionally difficult to ignore the minor tonal shifts when hopping from one world to the other. Despite its aseptic nature, there is an undeniably organic quality to the interpersonal dynamics in The Little Girl’s reality, particularly those of the mother-daughter relationship. It is in this world, a warped mirror of our own reality, that The Little Prince delivers its most poignant message by highlighting the frequent sedation of joy in modern culture. Though under half of the film’s 108-minute runtime resides here, it is an intoxicating enough concept with a darkly comedic delivery that creates a palpable desire to explore this world in its own feature, especially when juxtaposed to the other worlds that round out the rest of the movie.
The Little Prince forgoes its akin-to-Pixar look for the more stilted, but just as stimulating, stop-motion animation, reminiscent of Laika Entertainment projects such as Coraline and the upcoming Kubo and the Two Strings. It is not the differing visual styles that prove jarring, but rather the script’s devotion to pulling dialogue word-for-word from the source material. The characters, particularly The Little Prince, speak in such matter of fact tones that it feels antithetical to the free-spirited message rooted in these moments, and clashes with the dialogue of The Little Girl’s world. The greater issue, though, is how rushed many of the Prince’s interactions are with the memorable characters he encounters; for what is otherwise such a direct adaptation, The Little Prince breezes through the moments that are afforded more length in the book. All this is to say that the result is a desire for more of both of the aforementioned storylines, but not a longer runtime on the whole––the story stagnates roughly an hour in as is.
Thankfully, the film throws a curveball just when it needs to, as it spirals into a lengthy third act in which The Little Girl embarks on a dream-like adventure that somehow manages to avoid bloat. It is hard to be critical because the enormous set piece is well animated and thoroughly enjoyable, but this does serve to stretch the movie in one direction too many. The Little Girl’s world acts as an allegory for one of the film’s themes, and The Little Prince’s is a direct translation of the source; the last 30 minutes, then, are a noticeable divergence that further dissolves the already frayed cohesion of what preceded it. Yet, every second of the three distinct worlds ambitiously shoots for the stars, and, at the very least, the end result lands firmly amongst some very lofty clouds.
Furthermore, the film appears to struggle with its new medium. It clearly desires to maintain the book’s melancholic look at the bittersweet nature of loss––this theme plays an important role near the midpoint, and also serves as a particularly affecting beat regarding the protagonist’s noticeably lacking family structure. Unfortunately, it is unable to fully deliver in the end, probably because it is a project specifically geared towards a more youthful and innocent audience: children. Ultimately, The Little Prince does not pack the punch it could have, perhaps falling victim to producers worried the source was not Hollywood enough to turn a profit as it was, but again provides enough to satisfy.
Despite the mildly muddled message and some messy pacing that keeps this puzzle from crisply connecting, the animation and voice work more than succeed in making this a satisfying viewing experience. The Pixar references are bountiful––the bland suburbs in The Incredibles; the character reversal of the generation-defying relationship from Up; even the dimwitted but affable 20-somethings from Ratatouille would feel at home here. But the visuals manage to feel unique, thanks in part to some dynamic framing and world building creativity. A litany of talented actors provide powerful voice work, but none more so than Bridges and McAdams, who inhabit their characters so richly that their absences from the final set piece relieve the film of a fair amount of its emotional grounding. But considering an adorable, mute doll of The Fox (voiced by James Franco earlier) replaces them, it is difficult to complain; the furry critter is a reminder that we hit play to experience something that exposes the joy and love that life has to offer, and this film certainly espouses both of those emotions in spades.