Thank goodness for Netflix. A week away from its release on March 18, 2016, Paramount pulled the plug on THE LITTLE PRINCE, with no discernible reasoning, and left the film in distribution limbo until streaming giant Netflix swooped in and saved the day — and we should all be grateful. The animated film, directed by Mark Osborne, was released on August 5 worldwide on Netflix, and it’s an enchanting, if slightly overly sweet, addition to the canon of animated features. It’s the first full-length animated adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novella of the same name, following several varying versions of adaptations, including Paramount’s 1974 live-action musical adaptation, which is, frankly, better left in the past.
The novella is one of the most celebrated stories and fourth most-translated book in the world, but it’s hardly substantial enough to fill the film’s 108-minute runtime, which is where Irena Brignull and Bob Persichetti’s script comes into play — and the minor but noticeable problems. In order to fill out a whole film, the majority of the content focuses on an original story about The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy) who grapples with her Mother’s (Rachel McAdams) intimidating and overwhelming life plan to enroll her into the famed Werth Academy and ensure a successful future. When The Little Girl meets and befriends the next-door neighbor, The Aviator (Jeff Bridges), much to her chagrin at the start, she learns the story of The Little Prince (Riley Osborne) and The Aviator’s relationship with him. What follows is a heartfelt bond between an adult who hasn’t forgotten his childhood and a child who is being forced to, and an adventure that makes it clear the entire film was a passion project for those involved, especially Osborne, even through all the trials and tribulations and thoughts of impossibility this film went through during its production and release.
It’s in this original story portion of the film that flaws become apparent. The Little Girl is appropriately endearing, as is her relationship with The Aviator, but once she determines to go on a mission to find The Little Prince in the third act (in part to save the aging Aviator), things become messy and slightly over-stuffed. It’s a finale that involves The Little Prince growing up to become Mr. Prince (Paul Rudd), only to learn, through his perilous escape from an asteroid full of adults with The Little Girl, how to become a child again. The film emphasizes the story’s morals in a way that will all at once tug at your heartstrings, and come across as somewhat saccharine. It doesn’t always work, as the film finds itself derailed for a large part of the third act, but is never, at least, boring or frustrating to endure.
What never suffers any problems throughout The Little Prince are the sequences adapting the book, which differ from the main storyline by the use of stop-motion animation (as opposed to the CGI that makes up the rest of the film). The scenes are nothing short of breathtaking visually, as they recount the Prince’s life on his asteroid with his Rose (Marion Cotillard) before traveling to other asteroids and meeting The Conceited Man (Ricky Gervais), The King (Bud Cort), and The Businessman (Albert Brooks), and finally coming to Earth and meeting The Aviator, as well as The Fox (James Franco) and The Snake (Benicio del Toro). It is perhaps the best this story has ever looked on film.
Another truly wonderful component of the film is its music, composed by Hans Zimmer and Richard Harvey, with vocal work by Camille on various tracks. It’s enchanting and whimsical, perfectly blending with the film to whisk away the audience. While the story may have gotten away from the crew at times, there is no doubt of the outpouring of love that comes from each element to make up the film. It’s a project made with a lot of heart that really translates well. Its flaws are distracting at times, but they do not crowd the film or take away from what really lands.
And if you can put your cynicism aside, it will be the moments and emotional beats that are meant to tug at your heartstrings that will end up resonating the most as the film concludes. While this will surely be an entertaining film for children, it’s adults who read this story when they were younger (as I did) who will find the most meaning in it. Provided you allow yourself to indulge in some nostalgia and throw away any pretenses, Osborne’s meshing of the original story with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s striking story about adulthood will work. It will not work in every way, but how it succeeds the most is by presenting itself as a love letter to the novella, rather than a strict adaptation. By creating an original story where a child learns about the story of The Little Prince, it props the book up and asks the audience to listen to one of its most memorable lines: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
By watching this film with one’s heart, there are boundless moments to enjoy and cherish.
Running Time: 108 minutes
Anya is a journalist with a passion for the following things, in no particular order: movies, history, dogs, musicals, and Disney parks. She lives her life attempting to embody Amy Poehler or Lauren Bacall on any given day.
Anya Crittenton | Associate Editor