NOTE: “The Little Prince” was pulled from theatrical distribution in the U.S. merely one week before its planned release date of March 18th, 2016 in the region, due to American distributor, Paramount suddenly dropping the movie for reasons unknown. Fortunately,”The Little Prince” is not only available to see in theatres here in Canada, as the Canadian distribution rights were instead handled by Entertainment One, but also released a week ahead of its former U.S. premiere date here in the Great White North! The movie is now planned for a U.S. release exclusively on Netflix at some point later this year.
The Little Prince is one of the most famous and beloved novellas of all time. At this point, the celebrated French story stands as the one of the most widely-translated offerings of literature in human history, and has been adapted to a wide variety of mediums beyond prose, including stage plays, radio shows, television specials, and even its own ballet and opera. At long last, The Little Prince has now made the leap to becoming a feature film as well, and quite the ambitious one to boot, being an animated movie that combines modern CG animation with papercraft stop-motion animation in two separate, but intertwined storylines.
The Little Prince already has no shortage of success on the big screen to boot, since it originally released in French theatres all the way back in July of 2015, after premiering at the Cannes Film Festival last May. Since then, it’s become the most successful and highest-grossing movie out of France to date, despite being made by an American director and voiced by a mostly American cast. This led to the movie getting a later release in March of 2016 planned for North America, even if Canada was ultimately the only other region besides France to receive The Little Prince properly in theatres at this point.
Fortunately, it’s a treat for us Canadians to get another great March movie to enjoy, as The Little Prince is a charming, highly emotional movie that does great justice to the source material. Even with its bold structuring of being a story within a story, constructing an original narrative around the famous novella that inspired this movie, The Little Prince is very heartfelt, and manages to be entertaining in a smarter, more grounded way than most other family-friendly animated movies. If you live in Canada and have the means to see The Little Prince in theatres, it comes highly recommended for viewers of all ages, even if the primary target audience seems to be grown adults who already have some level of appreciation for the source novella.
An interesting strategy that’s employed with The Little Prince, and one that works well with its storytelling style, is that virtually none of the characters are ever addressed by name, with only one small exception in the third act. They’re merely referred to as what they are, or what they appear to be. Just as the titular Little Prince is only ever referred to as such, the main character of the movie is simply known as, “The Little Girl”, just as her mother is simply known as, “The Mother”, which falls in line with the novella’s style of also not naming the characters. This adds a child-like simplicity to the story that still works remarkably well on the big screen, especially when the movie’s core theme is the importance of cultivating and maintaining the innocence of a child’s heart, even into one’s elderly years, and how the demands of modern society unjustifiably force us to abandon that mindset when they really shouldn’t.
If you’re familiar with the source novella, you’ll also find that the majority of its most memorable personalities make a return in the movie’s rendition of the original story, and are portrayed very faithfully. There are inevitably some personalities from the novella that have been cut out of the movie, namely those that were deemed inappropriate for a movie that is being marketed towards families and children, but most of them are present. The movie’s original narrative even has the clever idea of making one of the novella’s core characters, The Aviator, be one of the leads, now an eccentric and accident-prone old man that ends up befriending The Little Girl, and sharing his story with her, which happens to be the real-life novella of The Little Prince, or at least a streamlined version of it.
In fact, it’s legitimately surprising that the movie adaptation of The Little Prince was so bold as to create original personalities to grow and thrive within an entire original narrative that’s wrapped around the existing narrative of the novella. All the better is that the new personalities, namely The Little Girl and The Mother, are fantastic, and give The Little Prince an enhanced modern edge in its movie incarnation, which allows the themes to even better translate to audiences of 2016. The Aviator is often played for laughs in the first two acts, but his story arc actually becomes incredibly dramatic towards the movie’s climax, and this stands in great contrast to The Little Girl, who is forced by The Mother to accelerate her schedule to grow up as quickly as possible, and always be super-serious about her direction in life. The movie wisely avoids painting The Mother as a villain however, with her reasons for pushing her daughter so hard coming from a very real and shocking place, one that few modern animated movies really dare to explore, and that’s awesome, especially when it does so with exceptional subtlety and taste.
In fact, The Little Prince doesn’t really have a true villain for the most part, at least not when it comes to the novella. Being a story that’s all about celebrating innocence, this lack of a real antagonist makes sense, since there’s no evil force that’s meant to shatter the story’s beautiful, abstract take on illusion and mystery. The only exception is the movie’s third act, which is the one point where it stumbles a bit, and where the original narrative starts working against the novella’s story to a point. This part of the story tries to force in an antagonist, and it unfortunately works to the detriment of the movie, especially when the movie sets up another great device for a climax, only to abandon it for an especially weird, left-field story element that comes out of nowhere, and is barely explained after it’s resolved, seemingly with no real consequences.
Even so, the cast of The Little Prince is fantastic, and includes lots of recognizable Hollywood talent, from James Franco to Rachel McAdams to Jeff Bridges to Paul Rudd to Marion Cotillard to Benicio Del Toro, and more! There isn’t a single weak link among the performances, all of which are exceptionally heartfelt and emotional, even if Bridges especially is at least allowed to have fun with the animated characters every so often as well, which nicely offsets the heavier bits. One can’t really discuss the many personalities of The Little Prince without spoilers, and if you haven’t read the original novella, then I extensively recommend that you go into the movie on trust, and discover the characters for yourself. All of them have something special and memorable to offer, and all of them contribute their own individual sense of magic to the movie, which brilliantly brings the source novella to life like never before!
Like I said, it was an incredibly risky decision to build an original narrative around the established story of the novella, but the movie adaptation of The Little Prince really does pull it off, against the odds. The story of The Little Girl and the obsessive desire to grow up and achieve perfection in modern society, seemingly compromising her entire childhood at the behest of The Mother, is one that works perfectly with the source novella, and as I said, it helps to modernize the story without making it feel like this movie adaptation is going to date in a few years.
Most of The Little Prince offers a potent cocktail of fun and emotion, with the first two acts definitely not being afraid to be more comical and whimsical, even if the third act is more dramatic and serious, with the almost direct incorporation of the original novella balancing things with a sense of great reverence and awe. The movie’s plot tries to create the feeling of an exceptional storyteller sharing the story of the original novella to someone who has never heard it before, or perhaps adding extra spice to it for someone who did read the story in the past. Because of this style, it’s easy to draw comparisons to classic movies like The Princess Bride, which presented its story in a similar manner, as a story within a story, and it’s entirely possible that The Little Prince could end up achieving a similar status as a classic cult favourite among animated movie enthusiasts over the years.
It’s just too bad that the third act of the movie doesn’t seem to fit with the first two. The third act takes things entirely into the territory of the bizarre, foreign and abstract, bringing its metaphors and themes to life in a twisted new setting that is memorable and cool, but also doesn’t gel with what happened in the movie beforehand. More strangely still is that this part of the story even feels disconnected from the movie’s denouement that follows it, which barely acknowledges this strange climax. Taken on its own merits, the movie’s third act is still cool, but it does feel like it belongs in a different movie, especially when it insists on forcing a villain that really doesn’t need to be there.
Nonetheless, The Little Prince does an excellent job at celebrating its source story, and sharing it with a new generation of viewers. Sure, the movie’s version of the story isn’t quite as robust as the original novella version, but all of the important story beats from the novella are there in the movie, including some of the more shocking and heartbreaking ones. This movie is a great way to introduce people to the novella for the first time, and yet, it also feels like one of the best adaptations of the novella made to date for people who already fell in love with the story in a previous form.
As with the characters, if you don’t know the story, you really should go into the movie knowing as little about it as possible, since it’s a story that demands to be enjoyed on trust, just as The Little Girl learns it from the aging Aviator, who befriends her as a means of passing on his exploits with the title character. The movie’s modern touches only make the story better as well, rather amazingly, with the modern polish thankfully not taking away from what made the original novella so special since its initial publication in 1943.
The Little Prince is helmed by American director, Mark Osborne, despite the movie being a largely French production, even with an American director and cast behind it. You’ll no doubt recognize Osborne’s esteemed work for Dreamworks Animation, as he also directed the original Kung Fu Panda, even if he didn’t helm the two subsequent sequels.
The Little Prince is definitely a far cry from the colourful and action-packed Kung Fu Panda, being a far more mellow and pleasant movie that doesn’t rely on a bunch of sensory overload to try and engage viewers. Instead, Osborne helms the movie with supreme trust that the original story can still sustain itself. This faith is thankfully rewarded, as the movie’s two storytelling halves manage to work well together, and the way that Osborne has the novella work to the advantage of this movie’s original new story is very well done.
It’s objectively true that The Little Prince doesn’t offer as much to directly engage children and easily distracted viewers as most other competing animated movies, but on the flip side, this also avoids the feeling of the movie being over-expensive or obnoxious in its storytelling, which wouldn’t fit with the legacy of the source story. Osborne really manages to bring out the quaint magic of the novella to sublime effect, creating a movie that is as whimsical as it is powerful, carried by personalities that are as strangely believable as they are undeniably relatable. Even though kids can still enjoy The Little Prince as a cozy storybook-style tale, this movie certainly feels more intelligent and sophisticated than many other animated movies for adult viewers in particular, perhaps second only to the likes of the genre champions at Disney/Pixar.
The music suite of The Little Prince is composed by the combined likes of Hans Zimmer and Richard Harvey, so as you can imagine, it offers a pretty solid soundtrack! The pleasant, chipper melodies of the music create an idyllic sense of modern paradise in the original narrative moments, though the compositions behind the actual The Little Prince sections also work very well, giving the movie sort of a charming theatrical feel that is very comforting, while also nicely bolstering the sense of mystery and magic. I could have done without a few obnoxious orchestral swells during the rare handful of action-driven scenes, which almost feel like they’re trying too hard to excite, but that’s a minor quibble.
The rest of the audio suite behind The Little Prince is generally solid as well, with the movie having a good sense of cartoonish style in the sound work, even if it inevitably doesn’t quite have the same level of audio detail as movies made by larger animation studios such as Disney/Pixar and Dreamworks Animation. The biggest audio treats are definitely during the Little Prince sections of the movie, which have an imaginative and fantastical storybook feel that works well with the animation, while also adding a nice otherworldly quality to the visuals. The audio definitely doesn’t have the punch of more large-scale Hollywood animated movies, but it gets the job done, and greatly enhances the charm of an already lovable movie.
For a small animated movie made by a tiny French outfit, and one that clearly needed tons of additional funding from a slew of other parties to achieve a reasonable budget, The Little Prince is actually astonishingly well-animated! Again, it’s no Disney/Pixar opus in terms of the visuals, but the movie still looks great, especially considering that it’s juggling two separate styles of animation.
The stop-motion papercraft animation from the Little Prince sections are the biggest visual highlights, and look very unique and striking, making the novella feel incredibly alive and immersive, even in contrast to its stage adaptations. That said though, the original narrative’s more traditional style of modern CG animation still looks pretty good, with environments looking kind of simplistic in contrast to the competition’s animated offerings, though character models and objects at least look good, and have more polish than you would imagine from a smaller project like this. The animation in the original storytelling gets a bit more flexible in the third act as well, where it becomes more unhinged and surreal, and better shows off what the largely unknown animation studio behind the movie is capable of. The third act may be a bit confusing, but at least it’s another visual highlight for an already striking animated movie.
Unfortunately, it’s also incredibly evident that The Little Prince wasn’t made to be viewed in 3D, with its theatrical release in Canada forcing a 3D cut that the filmmakers obviously never intended on. Even then, the 3D cut of The Little Prince was surprisingly rare in my part of the country, with almost every screening of the movie being in 2D, and I had to go to some lengths to track down a 3D showing.
When I finally found one, and saw The Little Prince in that format, it was pretty disappointing to see that it really wasn’t worth the effort. There’s a small handful of added 3D flourishes in a couple of scenes, but most of the time, the 3D is rather shallow, and often just hangs there and isn’t really put to use. Honestly, even people who generally love 3D movies might want to stick with the 2D cut in this case, and they probably won’t have a choice anyway, since it seems like almost every theatrical showing of The Little Prince is limited to the 2D version. Still, that’s the intended way to view the movie, and there’s plenty of impressive animation on display regardless to avoid the sense of feeling like you’re missing out without a pair of 3D glasses, which usually make animated movies even better on the big screen.
The Little Prince feels like something very special, and was clearly a passion project for its director. It may not have the same degree of production value as your animated cinematic heavyweights from the likes of Disney/Pixar and Dreamworks Animation, but it’s still a wonderfully emotional and highly uplifting experience that is definitely worth seeing for viewers of all ages, even if adults will probably get a bit more out of the movie than most kids, due to the more understated presentation.
If you already love the original novella of The Little Prince, then you’ll adore this movie adaptation, which genuinely enhances the story by maintaining all of its magic, while also giving it a smart modern take with an all-new narrative. If you’ve never read The Little Prince before, nor experienced it in any other form, than this movie adaptation is probably one of the best ways to get acquainted with the story, and it’s a story that everyone deserves to experience, for its massive, lovable heart alone.
Even with some of its production limitations, most notably the drab and pointless 3D job that some of Canada has the option of, The Little Prince’s emotional and memorable final product is something quite unlike many other animated movies from more established studios. The movie will make you chuckle just as easily as it can make even hardened moviegoers well up in tears, and by the end, you’ll feel like you experienced something that truly improved your outlook on the world and modern society. It’s a simple story of raw imagination, without much added bells and whistles, but The Little Prince is a great tale that has well stood the test of time. Like that eccentric Aviator, you may not trust it right away if you don’t recognize it, but when you let it into your heart, you’ll feel like a better person for it.
- Charming, likable cast
- Smart plot of a story within a story
- Inspired blend of animation styles
- Third act is overly vague and disconnected
- 3D presentation is not very good