The Little Prince is an adaptation of a widely acclaimed children’s book (of the same name) by author and artist Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Unfortunately, adapting any book comes with intense scrutiny from its readers, most of whom would sooner outright deny the film as an unfaithful adaptation than judge it by its own merit. Of course there are questions that need to be answered, a big one being does the film stray from its source material? It does, but with good intent and spectacular results. The Little Prince doesn’t exist to concede to the author’s vision, but rather tries to interpret it, showing us how such themes can be applied in disparate frameworks – in this case by a little girl in a contemporary setting. The Little Prince is a powerful film about how we interpret great stories.
The main character of the film, simply referred to as the little girl (Mackenzie Foy), embodies a world constantly moving forward, rarely stopping to appreciate the here and now. Literally mapped out before her, the girl’s future is cold, resolute and predictable. That is, of course, until she meets the aviator (a character, voiced by Jeff Bridges, who may or may not be Antoine, but his penchant for French music may certainly suggest so), an elderly neighbor who lives in the ramshackle house next door – a tall, brown and decrepit anomaly among the neighborhood’s monochrome uniformity. He introduces her to the quaint but deeply profound story of the little prince, a fable that teaches her not only the fortitude of boundless creativity, but the wonderful and tragic conventions of life.
Here the film melds two worlds, shifting seamlessly from CGI to glorious stop motion, the latter of which features the little prince, fashioned appropriately out of paper. Is it symbolic? Perhaps. The film makes no exceptions here between fantasy and reality, the story of the little girl and prince are, without a doubt, one in the same.
The ideas in the main story sometime play out as satire, cut from the same cloth as Brazil (dir. Terry Gilliam) or Modern Times (dir. Charlie Chaplin) with bustling depictions of mass conformity, people whisked around city streets like cogs in a machine. But the film finds its own unique footing, if not in office blocks or identical housing units, than on rooftops, where the aviator and little girl are stargazing. Throughout the film the little girl blossoms, her suppressed world unfolds through stories, a rusted old air plane and a stuffed fox. For her upcoming birthday, the mother (Rachel McAdams) plans on giving her a microscope, suggestively shrinking her worldview, contrary to the aviator, who introduces her to a telescope, encouraging her to muse endlessly while gazing upon the night sky.
The mother, who suffocates her daughter with unrealistic expectations, is never written in a way to make us think badly of her character. She is overbearing and intrusive, but deeply selfless and, as the film steadily implies, likely a victim of life’s hardships herself. But her maps and schedules do little to inspire the little girl. The pages of the aviator’s story provide enough for her instead. The characters and environments in the story come alive in her mind and manifest, but when his story ends and she learns that the aviator must “leave”, she snaps, regretting of her time reading the book, reacting as if something so wonderful had not been worth the sorrow – an important statement which allusively refers to life itself. The finite reality that the book depicts is one that the little girl doesn’t yet comprehend, but one that the aviator has blissfully accepted in his old age.
The third act, not without its faults, merges the two stories in what seems to be phantasmal plane of the little girl’s thoughts and inner conflict. Dark cityscapes and its soulless inhabitants, the world she depicts is dystopic, not entirely like our own but not unlike it either, eerily enough. The Little Prince concludes the film on a spectacle, but a contemplative one. What becomes of her, the prince and the aviator are resolved, not in the context of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s mighty fable, but in her personal narrative. It’s a more than satisfying note, which advocates that we accept life for what it is and move on.
The Little Prince is an affectionate paradox, how frequently it escapes reality through images and words, but how deeply rooted in reality these images and words are. Being a soft adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book, the film doesn’t so much opt to tell the story verbatim, but rather celebrate its timeless nuance, reading it through contemporary lenses. Oddly enough, the film doesn’t belong to Disney, DreamWorks or Pixar, but formalizes a rich concept that feels akin to their years of artistic and creative proficiency. In a time where films and television shows are lauded for how “faithful” they are in adapting another person’s work, I think what The Little Prince accomplishes is more impressive – a tribute, true to its source material and original unto itself.