Childhood is perhaps the most carefree period of one’s life, yet many adolescents yearn to grow up seemingly with increasing speed as each new generation passes. The Little Prince is a reminder of the importance of retaining a youthful sense of optimism and wonder even as the inescapable pull of time draws you into a world of adult responsibilities and the daily grind. Though it plays its hand far too earlier and leaves very little in the tank for its second half, The Little Prince is a charming watch: One that is sure to rekindle a sense of youth in those beaten down by the mundanity of grown-up life.
The Little Prince is not only one of the most commercial successful and beloved books of all time, it’s also been frequently cited as a challenge to properly adapt. That’s not to say many haven’t tried before, but the latest take on the classic tale plays with the source material in smart ways in order to avoid the usual pitfalls. The story has been given a whole new spine with the surgery being largely successful. The events in the novel are told as flashbacks by a kooky explorer (Jeff Bridges) to a nameless but inquisitive little girl (Mackenzie Foy). These two at first appear to be polar opposites but quickly discover some common ground and spend an unforgettable summer in each other’s company.
The young girl, however, is supposed to be indoors studying for her future that has been precisely laid out by her overbearing mother (Rachel McAdams). The contrast between the two adult figures is enjoyable, although a little underutilized. While the mother has clearly taken things to the extreme, going so far as to create an elaborate life plan board for her daughter, she clearly means well. The quirky explorer has equally gone too far in the other direction, taking “free spirit” to a new level. It would have been a nice twist if the moral of The Little Prince had been about moderation, showing there’s a time for serious work and a time for fun and imagination. Instead, the movie basically tells kids, “school work is lame, go and do creative stuff.”
While the mother works, the girl and the explorer play as he recalls his past and a chance encounter with the titular Prince after a plane crash in a vast desert. The Prince is a strange sort of otherworldly being that lives on a comet and is in love with a flower. These flashback scenes employ minor surreal elements and are the most artistically daring of the film. They’re generally filled with complete nonsense, but they’re undeniable creative and that’s the point. Occasionally it does feel like you’re sitting through the present day bits to get to another more exciting flashback, although strong voice work from the whole cast (particularly Foy) establishes a quick bond with the characters in both sections which remedies this issue.
Past the hour mark, when the explorer falls ill and the young girl ventures out to find the little Prince and save her friend, is when things start to fall apart. With most of the original novels material used up—after all, it’s a relatively short novella—The Little Prince relies almost solely on the new material in this movie adaptation. The girl finds herself in a strange city where creativity and colour have been outlawed, and the symbolism becomes so obvious it’s downright painful. Even for a family feature, the unsubtle way in which the movie distributes its message in the third act is borderline insulting. By the sixty-minute mark you’ve seen everything worth seeing from The Little Prince, making the final forty minutes a real chore to sit through.
The Little Prince even uses its animation style to convey its message about the importance of imagination and retaining a childlike outlook on life. The scenes set in the present day are all cheaply computer animated. They look like something you’d have seen on children’s television in the early 2000s, typically on an early Saturday morning. In contrast the flashbacks to the adventures of the on-the-small-side Prince are painstakingly crafted in stop motion and downright gorgeous. These diverging animation styles are a predictable but effective way of adding some narrative panache to the look of The Little Prince.
Though The Little Prince is far from a must-watch, it has enough merit to make it worthy of a viewing. Retaining the sense of wonder that is often associated with childhood is important, and The Little Prince celebrates the unique perspective of a young girl in a world filled with greyness. It would be perfectly pleasant if the movie didn’t feel so aimless, like it was simply being made up on the spot without a thought for how it would all tie together as a cohesive whole. Though it’s unlikely to be an endearing classic akin to its source material, the charming characters and occasionally beautiful art direction see the movie through its rockier moments.