Whimsy and beautiful animation is often not enough to carry a film beyond its initial couple of minutes – which is something that The Little Prince tackles directly. Opening with muted colours and a child with her whole life planned out, the film explores what it means to be a child and adult alike. Even with deeper explorations of themes than most family films, this is still a wild adventure that makes up for a lack of subtlety by the time it reaches its heartwarming conclusion.
Based on the novella of the same name by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince follows The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy) as she tries to get into a prestigious school that will seemingly guarantee her a successful life as an adult. Her sacrifice of being a child is anchored by her mother (Rachel McAdams), who has laid out the schedule that her daughter will follow in order to succeed in life. When they move in next door to an old man, known as The Aviator (Jeff Bridges), whose house towers above the neighbourhood, The Little Girl’s plans of adulthood take a detour.
The Aviator lures the girl into a world of imagination and curiosity by teasing her with the story of The Little Prince (Riley Osborne), who travels from planet to planet having strange encounters along the way. The film reflects the oddities of the story of The Little Prince by providing aesthetic intrigue every time The Aviator is introduced. He isn’t just compelling because he is an old man trying to fly a plane from his backyard, but because he offers an escape from the mundane travails of adulthood. Bright colours and imaginative stories illustrate the whimsy which The Little Girl is leaving behind by focusing on the future at such an early age.
The lessons that the girl is learning mirror that which The Little Prince himself is learning as he meets a wide array of people and animals. On one hand, the parallel makes the final act of the film that much more satisfying and benefits the film as a whole. But then there is the complete lack of subtlety that for a while begs the question of why even have the frame narrative of the little girl being told the story of The Little Prince. The movie brings everything together in a cohesive and whimsical manner, but it feels a bit too pushy on the part of the script to have both The Little Prince and The Little Girl having similar realizations.
The way everything comes together feels magical though, and reinforces everything The Little Prince is trying to say. Growing up isn’t the problem for children – it’s building relationships. The eloquence with which both The Little Girl and The Little Prince speak demonstrates a capacity for maturity, but its their evident lack of understanding of how human interaction operates that holds them back from comprehending the importance of childhood.
That eloquence in speech is one of the main reasons a good voice cast and script are important to such a hefty animated film. Sure, there’s a sweeping score composed by Hans Zimmer and Richard Harvey that helps gravitate the audience towards the feelings desired by director Mark Osborne, but the voice actors take it a step further. Jeff Bridges is a delight as always; Paul Rudd’s brief appearance is endearing; and Benicio del Toro is perfectly cast as The Snake. The only real weak link happened to be James Franco who is just kind of there and doesn’t offer much personality to the role of The Fox (a central character in the film that fortunately doesn’t talk much).
The Little Prince is a beautiful film that switches between animation styles on occasion to remind you just how beautiful it is. The use of muted and bright colours to contrast each other benefits the film’s overall character arcs and themes, though sometimes the film loses its subtlety for something far less appealing. It doesn’t break new ground with how it is structured, but it breathes new life into its source material and offers a compelling exploration into what it means to grow up.