Inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic novella of the same name, animation feature film “The Little Prince” has few magical moments, but, unfortunately, it does not leave much impression after it is over. While its first half is often buoyed by a number of memorable moments from de Saint-Exupéry’s novella, the main story of the film still feels less special and interesting in comparison, and that becomes more problematic when the film tries to take its own flight during the second half.
After the prologue scene featuring the simple sketch of a boa constrictor from de Saint-Exupéry’s novella, we meet its little young heroine voiced by Mackenzie Foy, who is about to go through the interview for her enrollment in a prestigious school for smart kids. After she feels panic and then fails due to an unexpected question thrown at her during this demanding interview, she feels depressed and disappointed, but her divorced mother (voiced by Rachel McAdams) adamantly believes that there is still a chance for her dear daughter. They move to a suburban area near to the school, and the mother, who is usually busy with her work, sets up a dense, complicated daily schedule for her daughter to follow for the preparation for another interview to come sooner or later.
Everything seems to go according to the plan, but they face one little problem. There is an old shabby house right next to their new home, and it surely stands out like a sore thumb as being surrounded by many other houses which look all the same in their clean monotonous appearance. The house in question belongs to an eccentric old man who was once an aviator in the past, and his new neighbors are not very pleased when he inadvertently causes a considerable damage to their house while tinkering with his old airplane in the backyard.
When our heroine is concentrating on her study as usual during one evening, a paper plane is flown into her room, and she becomes curious about a story partially written on that paper plane which is apparently sent from her neighbor. When she comes to his house, the Aviator (voiced by Jeff Bridges) gladly tells the story about a little alien prince he met a long time ago, and she begins to spend more time with him as listening to his story.
Of course, the Aviator’s story is directly from de Saint-Exupéry’s novella, and “The Little Prince” beautifully presents this part through a series of lovely stop motion animation sequences based on paper models and backgrounds. The accidental encounter between the Aviator and The Little Prince (voiced by Riley Osborne) somewhere in the Sahara is both funny and poignant, and its fairy tale aspect is further accentuated by its simple storytelling through stop motion animation. Marion Cotillard is gentle as a small red rose which happened to blossom on the Little Prince’s asteroid home B-612, and the sequence involved with the Little Prince’s long journey around other asteroids is amusing as he comes across several different adult archetypes. These broad characters are silly and absurd in each own way while reminding us of what we can easily lose and forget as growing up to be adults, and Burt Cort, Ricky Gervais, and Albert Brooks provide droll voice performances in their respective roles.
Two unforgettable animals which the Little Prince meets on the Earth are also well depicted in the film. Benicio del Toro is simultaneously lethal and friendly as a snake which kindly warns the Little Prince of what it is capable of despite its small size, and James Franco is touching as a fox which lets itself tamed by the Little Prince. As the time for their separation approaches, we hear a famous phrase from de Saint-Exupéry’s novella as expected: “What is essential is invisible to the eyes.”
While I was involved in these wonderful visual moments, I also found that the rest of the film is too weak to hold my interest because of its predictable plot and flat characterization. Its heroine’s strained relationship with her mother is clichéd to say the least, and the screenplay by Irena Brignull and Bob Persichetti handles the bittersweet truth behind the Aviator’s personal plan too lightly without going deep into its associated dark themes. As a result, the film does not have enough narrative momentum to propel itself toward more wonders when our heroine decides to take active steps for herself as well as her dear friend later in the story, and it eventually becomes less enchanting than before as heading to its superficial ending.
Anyway, “The Little Prince” is not a bad animation film at least on its technical aspects, and there are some elements which could be developed or utilized more for a better plot. The director Mark Osborne, who previously directed “Kung Fu Panda” (2008), did a competent job of establishing the drab, anonymous modern environment surrounding the main characters, and the smooth texture of digital animation makes a nice visual contrast to the crinkled texture of the stop motion animation scenes in the film. The climax part unfolded in a grim world where everyone looks like working corpse is not entirely without goodies to watch, and I also like that cute rag doll inspired by the Little Prince’s fox.
I cannot recommend “The Little Prince” for the flaws which distracted me during my viewing, but it can be a passable entertainment for you if you are familiar with de Saint-Exupéry’s novella. In case of young audiences, there have been more recommendable animation films for them during this year, and it is probably better for them to read the book rather than watch this disappointing animation film.