Overview: An inventive take on the eponymous Antoine de Saint-Exupéry book for children adapted and re-imagined as a contemporary animated fable. Netflix; 2016; Rated PG; 108 minutes.
Idleness: Beginning with director Mark Osborne’s opening frames to his thrilling theatrical adaptation of The Little Prince, it becomes apparent that this is a movie about growing up. More precisely, it is a morality play on the presumed impermanence of idle youth. The movie opens with a brief introductory narration from Jeff Bridges as Saint-Exupéry’s infamous character The Aviator, who laments the literal mindedness of adults. Osborne then whisks the viewer away to a strikingly utilitarian elementary school interview. Center stage is The Little Girl, a character created for a newly penned frame narrative that surrounds the original book’s allegorical movements. As the hopeful student makes her meager attempt at voicing why she belongs at the prestigious academy of primary learning, it becomes apparent that children are meant to grow up rather quickly, and at the risk of losing sight of one’s inner wonder.
For those unfamiliar with the iconic work of Saint-Exupéry, Osborne offers a brief glimpse into some of the intimated intelligence of the world-renowned work of illustrated prose. For everyone else, much of the whimsy inherent to The Little Prince can feel a little clichéd at times. There is enough good will imbued into the proceedings throughout to make the daydream like nature of much of the movie’s greatest animated sequences lifted directly from the pages of Saint-Exupéry soar. However, the film’s final act, along with much of the ancillary frame narrative, feel ill-applied and hastily assembled. The Little Girl can read like a poor man’s appropriation of the kind of character one might find in a film produced by Pixar, which serves to underscore and devalue a lot of the motion picture’s storied legacy.
Essentialism: Perhaps Osborne merely struggled in finding a way to tell the story of The Little Prince to new audiences potentially unfamiliar with Saint-Exupéry’s original work. Yet in applying such a clear cut distinction between the world of the book’s eponymous protagonist against that of an alien world of adult essentialism, much of the movie’s understated humanity and pathos begins to feels a little too much like academia and logos. In the movie’s final act, The Little Girl goes out in search of The Little Prince when The Aviator becomes ill, only to find that the former innocent has become a jaded adult. What arises then is another overly dour depiction of some of the themes hinted at in Saint-Exupéry’s book of wonder. But in examining those facets of maturity explicitly some of the magic is lost from the proceedings.
The Little Prince is overly intent on making the distinction between children and adults well known. Unfortunately, in beating the lesson into his viewers while simultaneously crafting sequences of captivating fantasy, Osborne delivers an inconsistent experience. Saint-Exupéry wrote a story that is as forthright as it is enigmatic. The book left it up to the reader to see past the text’s philosophical riddles to the true heart of the matter. Osborne instead assumes that viewers need to be told explicitly how to feel about the movie’s fairly obtuse digressions. The difference then becomes one of how to go about embracing one’s inner child over conceding it to adulthood, a lesson that Osborne hasn’t yet fully embraced.
Overall: Mark Osborne has done a remarkable job in adapting the seminal work of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry for contemporary audiences, but ultimately falls short of believing in his own ability to fully harness the surreal quality of the movie’s better intentions.
Featured Image: Netflix