Movie Review: The Little Prince
(Rated PG for mild thematic elements)
In 2010, director Mark Osborne began a 5-year odyssey, to develop an animated feature based on Antoine de Saint-Expury’s 1943 story, The Little Prince. Unlike a typical work-for-hire director, Osborne had been inspired by the book both in his youth and adult life, and set out to tell a story that sought to be true to the original text, as well as intertwine a tale on how the simplest of things, can influence us in the deepest of ways.
As the film starts, we see an overly-concerned mother (Rachel McAdams), trying to get her little girl (Mackenzie Foy) enrolled into a private academy. The little girl prides herself on being studious, but upon moving to an upscale neighborhood near the school, she encounters an old aviator (Jeff Bridges) living next door.
Though they meet under very unconventional circumstances, her curiosity becomes piqued, when he begins telling her about meeting A Little Prince in the desert. At first, she dismisses this rather absurd tale…but then, becomes curious about just why a little boy would be in the desert, alone.
Though this film is titled the same as the original story, some might be a bit perplexed that the Prince himself, is largely enfolded into the story of the little girl, and her friendship with the strange aviator next door. It should also be noted, that there are no names given to any people in the film. They are largely named by who they are, or ‘what’ they are.
When it came to the visuals for this film, I was most surprised by how the film mixed a number of animation styles.
When the aviator is telling about the Little Prince, the world of his story becomes stop-motion animated, drawing you in to the rather strange tales, that most grownups would find hard to grasp. Plus, a few of the original book illustrations are given life through hand-drawn animation.
In regards to the ‘real-world’ in the film, much of the color is drained, and the housing development we see the mother and daughter living in, is largely comprised of square shapes (even the door knobs!). As much as the style caught my eye, I couldn’t help but feel some parallels to the look and tone of Metroville, from PIXAR’s The Incredibles. Where the designers do have some fun, is in the helter-skelter of the aviator’s dwelling, making it a colorful oasis in a sea of conformity.
Speaking of Pixar, it also feels like the character designs for several of our main characters, borrow a little of their design style, notably in the big brown eyes of the little girl.
Animated by Montreal’s On Animation Studios, I was pleasantly surprised at their level of quality on-screen. These guys definitely were given the proper time to get character animation right, and even when it came to scenic color palettes, they handle the atmospherics with the kind of tonal dexterity, that the best of the best in the animation biz can pull off.
I just wish I could have been as thoroughly engrossed in the film’s story, as I was in its visuals.
The premise of a little girl whose mother is trying to send her down the right path to success, felt like a good place to start, but the film feels like it doesn’t know how to follow-through with that part of the story, once the aviator starts showing up.
Pretty soon, much of the super-strict study guidelines are all-but-shirked as the film tries to push us deeper into the friendship between the little girl, and the aviator. While a few of these moments are sweet, it never really feels like the friendship between the two becomes wholly concrete.
Of course, what might throw some fans of the book off in a big way, is when the film shifts into its ‘third act.’ That’s when The Little Prince suddenly shifts gears from a Peter Pan-like story that questions the ramifications of growing up, and then detours into the realms of Steven Spielberg’s Hook.
Though it is a bit jarring in where it chooses to go, Prince is a little less painful than other story change-ups we’ve seen in more recent book-to-film adaptations. A prime example is The Lorax, which sacrificed its integrity for cheap slapstick and product tie-ins.
Vocally, the film’s cast is pretty hit-or-miss. Though a lot of big name actors are included (some additional voice-actors include Marion Cotillard, and James Franco), many of their voices only register for less than a few minutes of screen time. There was also a disconnect to me, between some voices and the characters.
Mackenzie Foy provides the voice of the little girl, and several times, her vocals just didn’t seem to fit the proper emotion. Riley Osborne (the director’s son), does a decent job of vocalizing for the Little Prince, and is probably one of the few characters, whose voice just clicks perfectly. As well, the tone Bridges gives to the aviator, proves him once again to be a decent ‘mentor’ figure for animated characters, much like his Big Z role in the animated feature, Surf’s Up.
Director Mark Osborne impressed me greatly with his work on the 2004 Spongebob Squarepants Movie (I wasn’t a fan of the show, but the film entertained me with its off-kilter humor!), but here, even with the best of emotional intentions, his film adaptation of The Little Prince is a visual wonder, but has been paired with a rather muddled story.
The film feels like it yearns to give us a proper message on how one can grow up, yet not grow up, but it never feels like we fully comprehend these things by the time the credits roll.
The Little Prince was originally to be released stateside in March of 2016, but in a surprising move, Paramount Pictures pulled it a week before its release date. Fortunately, salvation came in the form of Netflix, where one can view the film through their channel, as of August 5, 2016.
Final Grade: B- (“The Little Prince” is an animated feature film, that bucks the trend of most animated fare that we are subjected to these days. Its story attempts to intertwine a classic piece of children’s literature, with a more modern-day problem, but never is able to properly feel as emotionally balanced as we wish it could be. The story feels like it takes the easy way out in a few situations, and its third act feels like the film suddenly nosedives into a whole other film realm. Some positives are the well-handled animation techniques, with computer, hand-drawn, and stop-motion, all integrated in a rare, entertaining way. )