Last year Disney Pixar released the box office and critic hit Inside Out, now an Academy Award winning film. People everywhere loved this movie, and while I really enjoyed it, I thought it had an overlying theme that would go above the child target market’s head. Dealing with the subject of depression and manic feelings, the film looked geared to start a conversation that was a bit age complex. Now, the English language version of the animated French film The Little Prince is being released in North America and I think it won’t land as intended with this same audience, even more inaccessible than Inside Out may have come off to some viewers.
Admittedly, I was only loosely knowledgeable about the original book and its international appeal from with this movie takes both its namesake and subplot of story. Now I know the history and influence this book has had, released in 1943 and now is the fourth most translated novella ever and France named it the greatest book of the 20th century. That’s high praise for a book I really knew nothing about, so naturally heading into this film I felt like a pretty literature ignorant Canadian. I definitely left the movie with a new want to experience this book though.
The film centers around a little girl (Mackenzie Foy), incredibly book smart and pushed constantly by her all business and academic minded mother (Rachel McAdams) so that she will be accepted into the prestigious and notoriously exclusive Werth Academy. The two move into a new house near the Academy where the mother sets up a thorough life plan schedule of the little girl’s life with every minute accounted for. The little girl’s life begins to change when she encounters the odd elderly aviator living next door (Jeff Bridges).
This first interaction happens when the aviator attempts to start the plane in his back yard, causing the propellor to fly off and crash through the separation fence and right through the little girl’s house. As an apology, the aviator gives her a large jar of pennies and later throws a paper plane through her window with an apology and an simple statement: “You look like you could use a friend.” On the page is the start to the story of The Little Prince, which the little girl dismisses at first. After making some discoveries within the jar of pennies, her curiosity gets the better of her and she goes to visit the aviator to ask about the story and hear what’s next. This begins the friendship between the two and our main story.
Why do I think this will be hard to access? Well, it’s really in the novella of The Little Prince itself, a story that is heavily philosophical and dealing with a lot of existentialism. Where the kids can really latch on to the story is it’s main statement being almost a social criticism on how the adult world works versus how the child’s overview of life is. Where the worries and focus of the adults are being rooted in other people’s opinions and bracing for the future, the children live more in the moment without anything else but authority having any damaging effect on that. This may land more with the kids than anything else in this movie.
The care for the story by Kung Fu Panda director Mark Osborne exhibits how much this story means to him. To put in a different style of framing device instead of telling the book straight forward, I think, shows a deeper love for the effectiveness of the story. He wasn’t interested in telling just the original book in movie form but illustrate the profound effect in can have on someone experiencing it for the first time. The bloom of imagination that stems from this is a beautiful cinematic moment that can make even the harshest of critics feel at least a bit of upliftment.
A very striking thing about The Little Prince is it’s blend of animation between the two threads of story, the reality part of it with the little girl which is done in a very Pixar sort of way, reminiscent of The Incredibles. Big eyes, exaggerated features and things like that. The Little Prince book story telling is done with a stop motion paper mache looking technique that is incredibly breathtaking. There’s a sequence in which the young aviator and the Little Prince are pulling water from a well and it was so captivating just on the visual alone I could real feel how slackjawed I was. The inventiveness from Osborne surely makes this one not just one of the best animated films I’ve seen in a while but one of the best overall films in recent memory. This one will stick around on the best of 2016 list.
The eclecticness of the English voice cast also works great with each actor being pitch perfect for their role. With all the brilliance of Jeff Bridges of the aviator, it’s no surprise that the other voices were perfectly matched. French actress Marion Cotillard lends her voice to both language versions of The Rose, while Benicio Del Toro voices, very appropriately, a snake, maybe channeling a bit of that Sicario character. The other strikingly great castings were Ricky Gervais as the Conceited Man and James Franco, in a blink and you miss it piece as The Fox. As we have seen many times in the past, an international animated film can be completely ruined by bad dubbing and The Little Prince avoided this problem completely.
I know we’re only just a few months into 2016 but it’s easy for me to say that The Little Prince has set a real nice level to be beat as far as family films go. Disney has now weighed in with Zootopia and Pixar still has Finding Dory down the road waiting for release but I really think this film could still very much be in the top of the race for next year’s Best Animated feature. I loved The Little Prince and give it a four and a half out of five.