Movie Review - The Little Prince

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a French aviator who lived from 1900 to 1944. In 1943, he published a semi-autobiographical novella of the same title here, which is the basis for this movie. That novella became one of the best-selling books in the world with 140 million copies moved worldwide. It's third only to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Adapted by Irena Brignull and Bob Perischetti, and directed by Mark Osborne, this movie changes the structure of the novella. Inspired by the Geena Davis Institute to make films more gender equal, instead of being about a little boy who essentially goes on an outer space adventure, Osborne's film is about a little girl who also goes on that adventure.

The problem is that it doesn't just change the gender of the protagonist, making the prince a princess. The film keeps the prince as an independent character, combining his novella adventure, which is a fantastical and very early 20th century adventure, with a modern-day and very much grounded story about loss and death, as well as a little about faith. Unfortunately, I'm not sure the two adventures gel together.

Mackenzie Foy voices an unnamed Little Girl whose Mother, voiced by Rachel McAdams, moves the two of them into a new neighborhood, so that she can get her daughter into a prestigious school called Werth Academy. She's a single mom, and, with the dad out of the picture for some reason, she pushes her daughter with a meticulous schedule and detailed plans, doing all that she can to get her daughter into Werth, but because the mom works a lot, the daughter is essentially a latchkey kid.

Jeff Bridges voices an Aviator who's now elderly and who lives next door to the unnamed Little Girl. The idea of a latchkey kid befriending an elderly person is one we've seen before, recently with St. Vincent (2014), Mr. Holmes (2015) or even Pixar's Up (2009). He tells her a story about himself when he was younger, flying his red biplane and meeting a Little Prince who has the ability to travel through space to visit tiny planets. The Little Prince does so by holding onto strings of even more tiny stars that carry him like balloons.

This doesn't gel with the girl who seems like an incredibly smart and logical, prepubescent person. She continually asks questions, but she pretty much accepts the Aviator's story. Even when the movie starts to integrate the fantastical elements with her, the Little Girl ceases to question. She just accepts and I didn't get why. Her acceptance can be dismissed, as she was just dreaming or letting her imagination get the better of her. It becomes much like the Red Baron sequences in The Peanuts Movie (2015), except the movie wants to believe that those fantastical sequences are real occurrences.

The sequences involving the Little Prince when juxtaposed against what the Little Girl and the Aviator were doing are metaphors for dealing with loss and the possible afterlife. The later stuff when the Little Prince grows up and gets a menial job feels like Steven Spielberg's Hook (1991). A lot of it by the end becomes about reclaiming one's childhood or that childhood feeling.

It's sweet and touching, but it's not as much or it doesn't have as much of an emotional punch as a Disney or Pixar film. Yet, the 3D stop-motion and computer animation is just as, if not more beautiful than Disney or Pixar's latest offerings. It's not as exciting though.

It premiered at the 68th Cannes Film Festival. It went on to win Best Animated Film at the César Awards. Prior to its limited release in the United States, it made over $90 million in the international box office, almost triple-digits. Most of that has to be fueled by the popularity of the book. I never read the novella, so I don't have that connection.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for mild thematic elements.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 46 mins.

Available on Netflix Watch Instant.
IFC Center in New York City.
Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco and Houston.


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