When we look at our life in any form, we realize that childhood is only but a small fraction of what makes up our entire journey. But some of the best moments of our development into who we become as an adult can ultimately be forgotten, and much like the tales of Peter Pan and other children’s fables, the fear of “growing up” never really goes away. That struggle, is represented in the Annie Award-winning The Little Prince, directed by Mark Osbourne and featuring the voices of Jeff Bridges and Rachel McAdams in the English version.
Adapted from the classic work of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince tells the story of The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy) who is being forced by her mother (Rachel McAdams) to grow up much earlier than most children her age. When the two of them move closer to the private school her mother wants the girl to attend, our young heroine meets a man simply known as The Aviator (Jeff Bridges). Filling in the traditional role of the wacky neighbor next door, Aviator has dreams of flying off into the stars to find an old friend, who (you guessed it) is the title character. Through various visits to his eccentric home, The Little Girl learns the stories of the famous young boy who lived on a tiny planet all alone, and begins to discover a much more fantastical journey ahead of her.
From the beginning, it is easy to see that this cinematic incarnation of The Little Prince was made with much more love than most recent films of its nature. There is a lot to take in here, both in regards to the many messages the film is speaking to, and the intriguing visuals. Osbourne, mostly known for his work on the original Kung Fu Panda and Spongebob Squarepants, proves with this film that he is a storyteller who can stand among the greats at Pixar and other studios. But like his peers, this doesn’t always mean that every move on his imaginary chessboard is the smartest.
As you can guess from the description above, this (like many other classic book-to-film adaptations made for children in the past decade) requires a framing device, one that in this case is equally as brilliant as it is disjointed. From the first two acts of the film, we are led to believe we live in one very specific, almost Tim Burton-inspired society a la Edward Scissorhands, that though it might appear cartoonishly ridiculous, seems grounded in some sort of wacky realism. But after one specific incident, this somber character study becomes a full on adventure, which though entertaining, seems much more inspired by Blade Runner than the classic French tale that it is bringing to life. This could lead some to feel the hand of the film’s message slapping you in the face, while others will dismiss the heavy handed take on the subject matter and enjoy the whimsy of the final act.
There’s another aspect to the film that will also leave many to draw a line in the sand: the ending. Granted, the way that the framing device story wraps up is all well and good, but when it comes to the specifics of the actual Little Prince sections, many could find it hard to stomach. If you were one of the people that couldn’t handle the way Disney films of the past (Hunchback, Pocahontas) have detoured from their sources, you might not be a fan of what The Little Prince decides to sugarcoat for its audience. But if you’re willing to accept that this is an adaptation made for a much larger, PC-friendly audience, than there’s nothing to worry about.
Equally as controversial to some is the animation, which is created in two very different styles. Most of the movie is presented in the typical CGI format, while the stories of The Little Prince are given the stop motion treatment. When it comes to the majority of the film, the animation is what you would expect: lackluster character designs when it comes to the original characters, while everyone based on the original Little Prince book sketches seem somewhat awkwardly placed in this universe. This easily makes some of the more emotional sequences near the end a bit hard to stomach. But with the aid of some beautiful art direction, and the perfection of the scenes straight from the book, it all balances itself out. Particularly one moment, in which The Little Girl places glow-in-the-dark stars on her wall, is as visually delicious as any French dessert could be.
Also to be praised is the near perfect casting for the English language version. Jeff Bridges does a great job as The Aviator (though at times falls into his now stereotypical muddled speech that secretly we all love). Rachel McAdams portrays an up-tight business woman just as well in vocal form as she did in Midnight in Paris. And cameos by Ricky Gervais and Al Brooks are also quite charming. But the real standouts here come from those that are portraying the mysterious characters from the iconic tale, particularly James Franco as The Fox, Benicio Del Toro as The Snake, and Marion Cotillard as The Rose. All three bring a mystical, enchanting quality to the kind of vocal performances that could have otherwise been phoned in, specifically Franco, who is almost unrecognizable in his rendition of the tamed friend of the Prince. This will definitely be considered one of the best English dubs for some time, and deserves all the praise it can receive.
Though this isn’t a perfect adaptation of the immortal French classic by any stretch of the imagination, considering what it could have been, The Little Prince is definitely a movie that has more positives than it ever would negatives. It teaches lessons that are always needed to be told to children, and even though in our technology-filled landscape many kids might not even want to pay attention to such a tale, the hope that they will cherish this story just as much as I did back in my younger years is a dream I’ll hold close to my heart.