I’ve had the idea of doing a full review The Little Prince on my back-burner since I watched it, as I do have some strong if mixed feelings about it. However, shortly after I saw it up here in Canada I heard that the film’s US release date had been pulled, and missing that audience there were other films I could concentrate on reviewing. Netflix has since picked it up for US distribution, and with that audience about to have access to the film at home I feel I should give it the proper review it deserves.
I have a pretty close connection to this story. My high school did this story stage production of The Little Prince where I played The Aviator. It was during those rehearsals and performances that I realized not only that I rather liked acting on stage, but that I really loved this story. It’s subtle, has no real tangible villain, and yet was still able to pack a rather powerful emotional punch. Quite simply, it’s a fantastic children’s story, and if you haven’t read it I highly recommend doing so as I will reference it a few times in this review. You can find it online here.
So it was with fairly high hopes I watched director Mark Osborne’s film adaptation, only to have those emotions muted when I left the theatre. While I do not by any means feel this is a bad film, I do think it misses the mark. Instead of being a touching film, it instead decides to be too blunt.
The Story(minor spoilers)
After The Girl (MacKenzie Foy) fails to earn a spot at the most prestigious school, The Mother (Rachel McAdams) moves them to the cheapest house in the vicinity and lays out a strict plan by which The Girl can still meet the school’s admission requirements. The house is so cheap because it is next door to the weird house of the eccentric The Aviator (Jeff Bridges), an older man who continues to try to fix up his wreck of a plane to the annoyance of his neighbours. Sensing The Girl needs a friend, The Aviator invites her over and lends her his writings and illustrations about his encounter with The Little Prince (Riley Osborne). They bond over the story, but their friendship is disrupted when The Mother finds out The Girl has not been sticking to the schedule. In addition, The Aviator hints that he himself must soon leave much as The Little Prince did in the story, which upsets The Girl and strains their friendship. When The Aviator is rushed to the hospital, The Girl takes a journey in the repaired plane to find The Little Prince and have him help The Aviator.
The first thing one notices about this film is that it uses two distinctly different styles of animation. The framing story with The Girl, The Mother, and The Aviator is all done with CG animation. While it lacks the fine details of the more recent Pixar, Disney, and Dreamsworks films, it’s fluid and colorful and perfectly acceptable. Meanwhile, the story of The Little Prince is told in a mixture of paper and felt stop-motion, and frankly is absolutely gorgeous. This allows these parts of the film to display a visual style inspired by the original illustrations, while maintaining a feel that is whole its own.
My problem is that the majority of the film is the framing story, only showing the far more visually interesting Prince portions two or three minutes at a time. I was continually longing for those portions to come up again. Instead, I was disappointed was that some of the original story was left out, instead devoting more time to The Girl’s story. These parts, as stated, aren’t badly animated, but as they are both below the standards of the major films and less interesting than the stop-motion work, the overall end result is that it really underwhelms.
I don’t want to appear too down on the framing story. There are some genuine touching moments between The Aviator and The Girl, as they develop a grandfather and grandchild type of relationship. Parts of that are actually quite touching, as she starts to care for the old man and is confused by his references to having to leave someday. This really resonates. Unfortunately, there is too much time spent on The Mother’s focus of trying to get The Girl into the best school, and those parts of the film, quite frankly, are not only unrealistic but absolutely stop the film dead by being completely boring as well. It takes the subtext of the story, mainly of trying to keep a child-like view of the world while being aware of life’s realities, and bring it straight to the forefront with extreme bluntness.
Also not helping matters is the last act, as The Girl searches for The Little Prince. This part, quite frankly, did not work at all for me for a few reasons. First, if she’s entering The Prince’s world, then it should have been done in the paper style. That would have at least been more interesting visually. Second, it introduces a straight-up villain to the story. Even if you’ve not read the story you should be able to figure out who that is while watching the film. Given the original story had no villain, and simply tried to relay a message about life, adding one really seems like the filmmakers completely missed the point of the story. Finally, it once again takes any subtext of the original and makes it entirely too obvious, as is the them for the entirety of the framing story.
The voice acting, for the record, is perfectly acceptable. It seems the filmmakers took cues from Walt Disney himself and decided to cast age-appropriate people for each role, so there’s no jarring juxtaposition of an older voice coming from a younger character. In particular, I do want to complement Jeff Bridges’ The Aviator, as he is able to project the confidence and grandfatherly wisdom the role requires.
In doing a bit of research, I discovered that the film’s creators decided to add the framing device as a way to add more female characters to the film, there really being only one such character in the original story. I’m well aware that there is a segment of the online community that would bristle at that suggestion, but personally I’ve no problem with the idea in theory. As a children’s story, it does lend itself well to a framing device of an adult reading it to a child. In that aspect, the framing story works quite well. It’s the added story, with it’s concentration on order, schedules, and studying where the framing story does not work.
So, what would I have done differently? Make the story about The Girl visiting her elderly grandfather, who happens to be The Aviator, after her father left. Have The Aviator try to cheer up his granddaughter through The Prince’s story, while The Mother is wallowing in her grief. After The Aviator gets sick, you can still have The Girl go looking for The Little Prince, but have that in the stop-motion style, since she’s moving into his world. Don’t have a villain, just have him explain to her what to do in a manner similar to how he and The Aviator talked. Then the girl can comfort The Mother by telling her The Prince’s story and what she learned from it, and they can both visit The Aviator at the end.
As it is, I still really wished I liked this more than I did. I do think it getting a Netflix release is perfect for the film, as while it’s not worth the price of a theatre ticket there is at least some value in it. It’s certainly better, in my opinion, for a film to at least TRY to be a smart children’s movie and not quite work like this, as opposed to one that tries to be pure entertainment and ends up being annoying instead. I’m looking at YOU, Minions! So despite my own reservations I am glad people will be able to see this.
Mildly recommended, mostly for the stop-motion animation portions.