A little girl moves with her serious, overbearing mother to a new house, next to an old man, who looks at the world quite differently. He tells her the story of the Little Prince.
Whether you will like this movie, will truly depend on your expectations, or on your ability to change your expectations while watching it. The Little Prince is of course based on the famous book Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, but it doesn’t follow the story of the book closely. Instead, parts of the story are taken up, but they are placed inside a scaffold of a larger narrative that doesn’t appear in the book at all, but looks more like fan fiction.
In one way, this is a bit disappointing if you had preferred to see the whimsical dream world of Le Petit Prince on the screen. But I can also imagine that this is a difficult story to translate to moving imagery. Like Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in the book one thing happens after another in loosely related scenes. Equally famous drawings, also by Saint-Exupéry, show the little Prince standing on his own asteroid and talking with a flower, and so on. The movie decided to take one element of the story, the pilot who talks to the Prince, and run away with that character.
The pilot is, of course, Saint-Exupéry himself. He injected himself into his original story, and he came from a background of aviation and had experience with flying over the Sahara, and the story of the book starts with a downed aviator in the desert. For the movie, this is actually quite a natural hook to hang a larger story on, so that doesn’t strike me as weird at all. In the movie, the elderly pilot then meets a little girl and narrates his adventure about the Little Prince to her. So, as you would read aloud Le Petit Prince as a grown-up to a child, in the movie the story is also narrated by a grown-up to a child.
The Little Prince paints a sharp contrast between the adult and child worlds. In the “real” world, we follow a little girl who ends up living next to the old man, Saint-Exupery. The adult world is super serious. Everything is grey and shaped like blocks, the little girl tries to enroll in a super serious academy and her mother has designed a life plan for her. All her future birthday gifts are already decided. Saint-Exupery meanwhile lives in a crooked, overgrown house, painted in the orange and green colors of life and nature, and doesn’t seem to fit in adult life. Doves signal his presence.
The film is of course about rediscovering childhood, and about remembering to not lose sight of a certain mental flexibility. The imagination of Saint-Exupery and his unstructured way of living completely messes up the neuroticisms of the adult world. The little girl picks up that message and in the end plays her own part in shaking people awake from the adult zombie-land.
Overall, the film is a bit bland, and long, but picks up a notch halfway through, when we meet the little prince as a grown-up, and see what has become of him. The scaffold story of the little girl and the old man is substandard family animation material, a bit uninspired and copied in style from Disney and Pixar, and felt too divorced from the more beautiful and whimsical story of the little prince. I liked though how different approaches of animation found their way into the story. The main thread is 3D animation, some of the fantasy is plain drawing, and deep into the tale of the Little Prince, wooden puppets and stop-motion are used.
The 3D animation is passable at best, occasionally clumsy. The film was expensive, featuring a star-studded cast for the voices (Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, James Franco, Marion Gotillard, Benicio del Toro, Jeff Bridges, Paul Giamatti, they basically got whole Hollywood to cooperate!) but hasn’t earned back that much yet. I was a bit disappointed.