The Little Prince is my all-time favorite book. It’s one I return to every so often – reading through takes less than an hour – but every time I get something new out of it, and every time it keeps me centered. It’s a book that’s made me laugh, cry, and just sit in silence for hours to ponder.
This movie is not The Little Prince. And that’s smart, because The Little Prince probably would not make a very good movie. Instead, this movie is about the things The Little Prince is about in the same way The Little Prince is about them. Instead of a straight adaptation, it uses the book as jumping-off point to tell its own stories. The Little Prince is more a movie about growing up with The Little Prince than it is just an adaptation of the source material.
The movie’s story concerns The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy), who’s going on nine and already has her entire life planned out in 15-minute intervals by her overbearing workaholic mother (Rachel McAdams). So the Girl can get into a prestigious school, they move to a new neighborhood; and the Girl quickly befriends the quirky old Aviator (Jeff Bridges) who begins to tell the Girl of how one day, when his plane crashed into the Sahara desert, he was approached by a little man who had come from another planet. As the Girl becomes enchanted by the Aviator and his story of the Little Prince (Riley Osborne), she begins to push back against the rigid schedule her mother places on her, and learns to see with her heart rather than her eyes, and to do her best to grow up without forgetting how to think like a child.
The Little Prince elides much of the original story, and in doing so does lose much of its nuance, and entire chunks of what has made it a childhood classic – such as the nature of taming and being tamed. But it keeps the heart of the story intact, that growing up doesn’t have to mean losing one’s sense of wonder, that “matters of consequence” and what is important are not always the same thing, and how to deal with figurative and literal loss.
But around the half-way mark into The Little Prince, the movie finishes its retelling of the book, and starts expanding its original story – where the Girl goes to meet the Little Prince for herself. It’s here that the movie begins to feel a bit like a fanfic sequel to the book, becoming more of a tribute than an adaptation. After hearing the story of The Little Prince, the Girl goes on an adventure that tests her on the lesson’s she’s learned by having her teach them to someone else. The movie switches from being about remembering the little prince to being about remembering The Little Prince. It becomes a little too black-and-white, a little too hamfisted, a little too “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)” – especially compared to the book, or even the first half of the movie. Although by the end the movie collects itself, for a while it confuses not forgetting childhood for refusing to grow up.
The movie’s CG animation holds up to the standards set by contemporary Dreamworks pictures, but where the visuals truly stand out are in the parts that retell the story of The Little Prince. These parts are done in a stunning paper-craft and stop motion style that perfectly translate the watercolor illustrations of the book into the moving image. These scenes really capture the whimsy and wonder of the book, and narrated by Jeff Bridges, feels like being read a bed-time story. The biggest reason I’m disappointed in this movie not being a 100% full retelling of the book is that we don’t get more of this incredible animation.
The voice-cast is impeccable, as well. Bridges is the stand-out as the whimsical, grandfatherly Aviator. Riley Osborne’s Little Prince is cherubic, almost too innocent and pure. If children’s laughter sets off your grouch alarms, this isn’t the movie for you. Foy’s Girl lands neatly between mature for her age and still a child; and McAdams as her mother manages to sell that she’s putting her daughter through all this because she loves her – she exasperates herself and her daughter because she wants her to succeed.
Given the choice between re-watching this movie, or re-reading the book twice, I’d probably pick re-reading; in fact, I read the book once right before and once right after watching the movie. But I am glad that I watched this adaptation. While it glosses over parts of the original, it also finds time to expand and reinforce some of the book’s vision through an original story. At parts it’s a stunningly realized visual adaptation of my favorite book; and even if it just makes someone re-read, or try The Little Prince for the first time, that’s doing the world some good in my book.