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Every year, I naively await the Oscars’ Best Animated Feature Film. Every year, Disney proves itself to be the most powerful force in the animated world, and every year, I nod and grudgingly agree as yet another Studio Ghibli film gets sidelined. With Pixar’s Inside Out setting the bar for animated films this year, Mark Osborne’s The Little Prince was released at the Cannes Film Festival with relatively minimal fanfare. However, I’ve been anticipating this adaptation for a long while, and when it was released for the English-speaking audience late last year, I welcomed it with open arms.
Antoine Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince is dearly loved by the world of children’s literature, and for good reason. It’s intent on driving home the relevance of childlike wonder in the face of the many facets of adulthood, all while retaining a heartfelt charm that never gets old. Osborne’s version maintains all this, but with a twist.
Instead of adapting the book scene by scene, this Little Prince introduces a young girl whose life has been scheduled perfectly to the very seconds by a helicopter mom. The family moves in next to a former aviator — the same aviator from the original story, only much older and quirkier. Priorities start shifting for the unnamed little girl as she gets to know the story of the Little Prince from her neighbour, all of which innocently reminiscent of the aviator’s own experience in Saint-Exupery’s book. The two storylines, old and new, are laced together for the first half, with the distinction made by the animation style. The girl’s daily life is computer animated, while the aviator’s narration of the story of the Little Prince is executed in lovely stop-motion that really cemented the emotional groundwork of the film for me.
Antoine Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince is dearly loved by the world of children’s literature, and for good reason.
This first half gives way to a storyline that wholly belongs to this film alone, and the result is something that can make or break the film depending on who’s watching. I chose to go into it with the intention of loving it no matter what, and while I didn’t ultimately love some of the changes they made, I liked them enough to allow them to pull at my vulnerable heartstrings. Osborne set out with this film to make his own personal statement about family and parent-child relationships, and make a statement, it did. The problem is that I’m not sure exactly what that statement is.
I love Saint-Exupery’s Le Petit Prince, and it might be my longstanding loyalty to the original story speaking here, but the one flaw of the film for me is that its original plotline fell short of where it really needed to be. Instead of growing into whatever they were trying to prove with the added story, the film reiterates the same monotonous mantras from Saint-Exupery despite blatantly being determined to distinguish itself. The moral of the story became something repetitive and not unlike anything we’ve ever heard before, and the repetition became something that bordered on ridiculous. It stripped away the emotional brilliance that could have been maintained if handled carefully, and while all was not lost at the end of the day, the rescue can only be credited to Hans Zimmer and Richard Harvey’s beautiful score. Osborne’s The Little Prince is a movie targeted towards children, but for a film that preaches about the importance of childlike imagination, it severely underestimates their capability to understand subtle thematic messages in what was otherwise a lovely film. It beats you over the head with the same message, explicitly stated through the little girl, and while nice at first, it was something the second half of the film could have done away with, or at least managed better.