An adaptation of a 63-year old book proves to be a charming and heartwarming tale for viewers of all ages to enjoy.
For the past couple of years, Netflix has done a fantastic job of providing its subscribers with quality original content. Series such as House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Stranger Things are so well received that they rival shows on cable television. Brilliant documentaries and hilarious stand-up specials litter the library of the successful streaming service. Netflix Original Films, on the other hand, are rare and have far less acclaim. Beasts of No Nation was a critical darling, but other than that, there have been only a handful of feature-length products with varying levels of reception. However, that trend might soon be changing, thanks to The Little Prince, an animated gem that’s as visually impressive as it is emotionally gratifying.
Based on the 1943 book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince was created in a collaborative effort between multiple animation studios in France and Canada. The film was headed by American animation director Mark Osborne, known for his work on the cartoon series, SpongeBob SquarePants, and the Kung Fu Panda film series. While it did play in theaters in its native France following its non-competitive appearance at the Cannes Film Festival, Netflix bought the rights to bring it to the States with an English-speaking voice cast.
The story of the film follows an unnamed Little Girl (voiced by Mackenzie Foy) who lives with her single Mother (Rachel McAdams) in a highly conformist and methodical society. The two move into a new house, so that the girl can be enrolled in a prestigious academy nearby. However, they soon come to realize that their neighbor is an eccentric elderly Aviator (Jeff Bridges) who the community views as an outcast for his strange behavior. Noticing the Little Girl was in need of kindness, he shows her his stories about his encounter with the eponymous Little Prince (voiced by the director’s son, Riley Osborne, in his debut performance). Fascinated by his tales and his blithe demeanor, the child visits the Aviator, with whom she builds an unlikely friendship. During their time together, the Aviator, through the Little Prince, teaches the Little Girl about growing up, while still remembering her childhood.
From an aesthetic point of view, The Little Prince is breathtaking. The film ingeniously utilizes two distinct methods of animation. The world of the Little Girl is shown through computer-generated imagery, while the Aviator’s recounting of the Little Prince’s story plays out in stop-motion animation. Both styles look beautiful, with the latter getting extra points for recreating the look of the illustrations from the source material. The animation on display in The Little Prince is so incredible that you may get teary-eyed by just looking at it.
Likewise, the writing and acting in this film are top-notch. Mackenzie Foy and Jeff Bridges bring the two main characters to life, especially in the touching climax of the movie. Other actors, such as Paul Rudd, Ricky Gervais, and Albert Brooks do excellent jobs at filling their roles in the narrative. Where The Little Prince shines, however, is in the writing. The story is charming and engaging, and the messages are deeply poignant, for both children and adults. It lets younger viewers know that it’s okay to grow up, but it also warns grown-ups not to let go of the wonderment from their childhoods. To quote the Little Prince himself, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
There’s a prevailing rumor about the Academy Awards and the category of Best Animated Feature. Apparently, few to none of the people who vote for the winner see all the entries up for the nomination. Rather than critically evaluating each of the films, the Academy will automatically choose whichever movie was made by the Walt Disney Company by default, and not even consider the others. While Disney has and continues to make great animated features, the notion that the panel of judges doesn’t care about these kinds of films is upsetting, to say the least. It’s a damning reminder that adult moviegoers still see animation as “kids’ stuff,” even if the film in question is meant for all ages. I bring this up because it’s a good analogy for The Little Prince, both the book and the movie. On the surface, many view the original story as a children’s book, due to its young protagonist and storybook-style illustration. In reality, however, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote The Little Prince as a novella with philosophical insight for readers young and old. Similarly, the animated adaptation is on course to suffer the same fate. It will likely be nominated for Best Animated Feature, but lose out to Zootopia, since none of the voters will watch it. Granted, Zootopia is also a fantastic animated picture, but that doesn’t mean that its competitors should be overlooked; especially not The Little Prince, which definitely gives the Disney film a run for its money. To put it bluntly, the people at the Academy need to learn the same lesson that the Little Girl does in the film. Just because you’ve matured doesn’t mean you should let go of your childhood. Animation isn’t solely for children, and by dismissing every feature in the genre as inherently juvenile, you are missing some truly incredible filmmaking.