THE LITTLE PRINCE Review
When I was little, I loved to go to Borders Books. I actually remember the specific trip when I picked up Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novella. I was seven-or-so years old, and I remember being drawn to the blue paperback cover (the prettiest paperback I had ever seen!) and the illustration of a little blond boy on the front. Of course, I took it home and read it, and I was actually a little disappointed and confused. Despite its short length and simple illustrations, it didn’t quite land as a book for a seven-year-old. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I would reread the book and it would truly touch my heart. Pulled from its US Theatrical release just a week shy of its premiere date, the latest film adaptation of THE LITTLE PRINCE found a fitting home on Netflix. Although better suited in some ways for VOD rather than the originally planned theatrical release, THE LITTLE PRINCE excels in capturing not only the story and spirit of the novel, but also the experience of discovering the original work as a child.
Expanding beautifully on its short source material, THE LITTLE PRINCE frames the original story in a narrative about a little girl and her overbearing (but loving) mother. When the girl (known only as such) is less than satisfied with her mother’s to-the-minute life plan for her, she ventures into her crazy neighbor’s yard (The Aviator) and learns the story of the Little Prince — a Prince about as lonely as herself.
“Hi. I’m gonna make you sob your goddamned eyes out.”
As wonderful as this movie is, it doesn’t take more than a few minutes of watching to realize why this wasn’t quite up for a theatrical release. The CGI animation — which comprises about 75% of the film — is not quite there. Don’t get me wrong, for an independent animation studio it looks fabulous, but the original release date pitted it head-to-head with ZOOTOPIA. Why cancel the release completely rather than push it back, especially after favorable reviews in France? I can’t say. But I can say that the decision at least makes sense looking at the context and looking at the film itself.
All this being said, while this film couldn’t necessarily flex its CGI chops against Disney, some of the stop-motion sequences could take Laika to the bank. I can only describe these sequences as hauntingly beautiful. They picked the absolute perfect style to capture the illustrations from the book, equally playful and melancholy. It reminded me most of JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, which heaped a huge dollop of nostalgia on top of my already nostalgic appreciation of the book. Fabric is a notoriously hard medium to capture in stop-motion, and it almost seems like the animators knew this and decided to make every conceivable thing out of fabric just to spite everyone else. They pull it off beautifully. If only the entire film could have been in this style…! But alas, we got what we got, and it serves the story well.
And it could be worse
Where THE LITTLE PRINCE could conceivably do battle with Disney is in its writing and depth of character — particularly the girl and the mother. The girl copes with problems I believe many modern children her age face on the daily. In the opening sequence, she goes to an audition of sorts for entry into a prestigious academy that guarantees a bright future. When she flubs the “big question,” she literally faints from stress. She spends her at-home hours studying Calculus, eating healthy foods, and even working out — a child! As a result, she is isolated, lonely, and bored. She struggles to balance her desire to live up to her mother’s (and her own) expectations of her future and her inner desire to be an actual child. With the eyes of college admissions looming earlier and earlier in children’s lives, I am hard pressed to imagine a children’s film that better captures the experience of actual modern school-age children.
The mother is an even more nuanced character. She effectively acts as the antagonist in that she wants to keep the girl away from the Aviator. However, she really does ultimately want the best and brightest future for her daughter at almost any cost. Even when she seems to act with cruelty from the girl’s perspective, it clearly always comes from a place of love — an extremely difficult line to walk. She embodies the struggle of the single parent: wanting to be there for her child, but not being able to; wanting to always do the best thing, but having to make it up at she goes with no help from anyone else. This could have been a case of the usual never-mentioned absentee parent in animated films, but the girl actually does mention her father at one point and it is a total gut punch. The entire dynamic between the girl and her mother is incredibly well crafted. THE LITTLE PRINCE really needed a strong heart to pair with the story from the book, and it triumphs.
“And these are the reasons why we’ll lose to ZOOTOPIA anyway”
I wish I could tell you that this film is beautiful and delicate and nuanced all the way through… but I can’t, and I’m very sorry. Unfortunately, this film that had me ready to weep at the one-hour mark pulled a bit of a 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE and, for lack of a better term, tonally shit the bed. I can’t really talk about the specifics of this section without completely giving away the ending, so I’ll just speak to where I think it came from.
THE LITTLE PRINCE is about two things: the value of “never growing up” while still learning how to be an adult (the “kids movie” theme), and overcoming loneliness and isolation (the “adult movie” theme). It sits very squarely in the “loneliness and isolation” for most of the film, and understandably so, because these themes connect the frame tale to the original book. Still, even when one seems to take precedence over the other, the dual themes tend to walk hand-in-hand. The sequence in question completely throws out the “adult movie” theme as if to say “No, no, no! We were really about not growing up the whole time! Never grow up! Whee! Children are the future!” To a degree this is fine, but what really killed it for me was a sense of waking up and realizing “Oh, right. I’m watching a movie for kids.” This should never happen, especially not in a film that already showed it had the capability to tell an emotionally and visually beautiful story without injecting a pandering message for kids!
“Well, Kate,” you may interject, pushing your glasses up your nose and wiping away a tendril of snot, “This is a movie for kids.” Sure, but so are ZOOTOPIA, INSIDE OUT, and KUBO, and I was never taken out of any of those in the way I was taken out of this one. To me, it speaks to a fear of going all the way. It got so close, but then shied away at the last possible moment. Admittedly, the rest of the film more than makes up for it, but it was enough to prevent me from totally sobbing my eyes out. It gave me “blue tear ducts,” as it were.
What a tease
THE LITTLE PRINCE ultimately won me over with its bittersweet ending, which did bring the film back around to the heftier themes. Aside from one misstep, it’s a beautiful and tragic film that rings true to the spirit of the book. It allows you to relive not only the story, but the experience of discovering the work for the first time through the eyes of a child. You may leave with a bit of a weird taste in your mouth, but you’ll inevitably shed a tear or two.