By Abby Lass
When I heard that someone was taking Le Petit Prince, the famed French novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and turning it into an animated movie, I was overjoyed. When I watched the first commercials over a year ago, I was hysterical. When I finally was able to watch the film after its Netflix release in early August, I was perplexingly unmoved.
The film, directed by Mark Osborne, steps outside the realm of the original story and focuses on a Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy) as she learns from her neighbor, the Aviator (Jeff Bridges) that there is more to life than fancy prep schools and Life Plans. The plot of the original novel, which revolves around the Little Prince (Riley Osborne) as he searches the stars and learns what is important in life, is a story within the story— a way for the Aviator to ignite the Little Girl’s imagination and teach her important lessons about friendship and letting go.
The cast is as star studded as the night sky, featuring actors like Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, Marion Cotillard, James Franco, and Ricky Gervais among its supporting players. The visuals are absolutely stunning, as CGI, stop-motion, and paper photography blend in a way that combines the whimsy and ephemerality of childhood with grace.
And yet something is missing.
The original novel is often praised for it’s brilliantly depicted criticisms of World War II and the modern era in general, as it shows people desperately trying to get nowhere while others perform ridiculous tasks because orders are orders. The film forgoes these elements and focuses instead on questions of growing up and losing people. This is an acceptable choice, given the structure of the production, but the film oversteps its boundaries while trying to be innovative.
From the way the story of the Little Prince is told within the film, it’s distinctly unclear whether or not the Aviator’s words and drawings are based on any genuine truth– though as he points out, the fact that the Little Prince wanted something makes him as real as anyone else. The fact that it is left up to the imagination, that the events are placed somewhere in the distant but not forgotten past, gives the tale a bittersweet nostalgia and sets it up as a catalyst for the Little Girl’s own journey into adulthood.
Unfortunately, the story veers into a darker and undesirably tangible direction as the Little Girl ventures out to find the Little Prince. It’s an exciting piece of the film and it’s clear that the directors added it in as a conscious choice, but it’s hard to know whether or not Saint-Exupéry would have appreciated this hijacking of his characters.
Osborne placed himself in a difficult situation, as keeping the stories separate failed to do either of them justice while bringing them together overstepped some creative boundaries. It makes for an enjoyable film in the end, but it leaves you with the sense that it could have been something more.
All and all, it’s a fun film that will make you laugh and tear up. It brings the story of the famous little voyager to a new generation, which is undoubtedly an important task, but I’ve got to hope that those children will also read the book when they grow up so they can experience the Little Prince in all his undiluted splendor.