There are lots of animated films coming out right now. Therefore, I’m doing an Animation Week here on the blog, continuing with:
In 1943, French poet and aviation pioneer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry released Le Petit Prince, a novella that would soon grow to become one of the most well-known and most-translated children’s books of all time (including a version in Braille). This makes it a little awkward for me to confess that I don’t recall ever having it read to me as a child. My grandfather may have offered to read it but I probably demanded he instead read me a comic book about the tribulations of a cigar-smoking strongman and his tiny friend in the outskirts of Stockholm.
Nevertheless, The Little Prince has now undergone yet another translation, namely being turned into a feature film. An animated one to be precise, which is agreeable since animation is always a useful tool for doing justice the magic of what you’re adapting. Had the film been live action, not as much would have been possible.
The film follows a Little Girl (voiced near-flawlessly by Mackenzie Foy), who moves with her single mother (Rachel MacAdams) into a colorless suburbia where every building looks the same and a prestigious academy is located. The Mother has laid out a meticulous life plan to which her daughter must abide immaculately if she is to be accepted into the academy – be “essential”. But The Little Girl finds herself distracted by their new next-door neighbour; an old and eccentric Aviator (Jeff Bridges), whose gaudy wooden home stands out amongst the grey blocks in the rest of the town.
The Little Girl befriends The Aviator, who shows her a series of drawings he made accompanied by a story. These are illustrations and bits of text from the original Little Prince book, and The Aviator recounts his own encounter with the eponymous prince and shows The Little Girl a world she never could have imagined – especially if she hadn’t broken free from the system of the world when she did.
As I understand it, all the computer-animated scenes in this film are a framing device for/expansion on the original tale, while the parts done with stop-motion are a straight up adaptation of the novella. These segments show the Prince (Riley Osborne), as small birds carry him through a version of space where all the stars are small glowing objects hanging on strings and some of the planets are hardly any bigger than the people who live on them. He also sees characters and creatures such as The Fox (James Franco), The Rose (Marion Cotillard), The Snake (Benicio del Toro), and several other beings voiced by the likes of Ricky Gervais, Bud Cort, Albert Brooks and Paul Giamatti (proving his astounding range even in voiceover roles). Paul Rudd plays a part too but I’m not going to say what it is.
However, I do feel it necessary to spoil some things in order to address some of the criticisms people have made against this movie, so consider this your first and final warming.
The latter half of the film is completely original and works as a sequel of sorts to the original book. The complaint I’ve heard people make is that this whole section comes off as fan fiction, where The Little Girl is a Mary Sue who does nothing wrong and conveniently saves the day. It’s true in some ways, but the smartest way to interpret these scenes is to assume they all take place inside the girl’s head, meaning The Little Prince and his friends never actually existed and that The Little Girl has simply adopted The Aviator’s imaginary world.
So of course The Little Girl happens to do everything perfectly and restore whimsy to the Little Prince’s now much bleaker and more “adult” universe; that’s how she imagines it. The film isn’t fan fiction, the Little Girl is writing the fan fiction. And it’s not pessimistic to assume that none of what we see in the second half is actually happening since the message is still conveyed. We still understand that growing up isn’t about enslaving yourself to a system and forgetting about the things that gave you comfort when you were little. (Being mature is not about removing all the color and joy from your life either, so someone who should definitely see The Little Prince are the people behind Batman v Superman.)
This is a film you need to see, particularly if you’re around my age and feel intimidated by whatever trials adulthood may have planned for you. Amidst a journey of both heartbreak and comfort, you will also find plenty of distinct characters, dazzling images, and an equal parts upbeat and beautifully haunting score (composed by Hans Zimmer and Richard Harvey). Mark Osborne has brought us one of the best animated movies of the year (really, it could not have come out at a more welcome time), even though some moments are a touch poorly paced. It is going to stay on my mind a long time after seeing it and I already intend to see it again at some point.
What’s most important, especially with a film like this, is that people of all ages will be touched by it. Children (who certainly deserve something like this instead of Ice Age 5 or Angry Birds) might prefer the colorful action while adults might love it more for its art and animation, be it the beautiful 3D rendering or the even more beautiful stop-motion. But what we can all collectively take with us is the lessons that “What is essential is invisible” and “Growing up isn’t the problem, forgetting is”.