Magazine article Variety

The Little Prince

Magazine article Variety

The Little Prince

Article excerpt



The Little Prince

director: Mark Osborne

voices: Jeff Bridges. Rachel McAdams. Mackenzie Foy

To the sure relief of armchair aviators everywhere, director Mark Osborne's "The Little Prince" turns out to be a respectful, lovingly reimagined take on Antoine de SaintExupery's classic 1943 tale, which adds all manner of narrative bells and whistles to the slender, lyrical story of a pilot and a mysterious extraterrestrial voyager, but stays true to its timeless depiction of childhood wonderment at odds with grown-up disillusionment. Independently made (on a reported $80 million budget) by French producer Dimitri Rassam, the movie may lack the fast pace and high-concept storytelling of today's most popular animated fare, but should strike a solid chord with family audiences around the world (where the film has been heavily pre-sold) and particularly in France, where Paramount opens the picture July 29.

Published a year before Saint-Exupery disappeared somewhere over Corsica in his Lockheed P-38 fighter plane, "The Little Prince" took its inspiration from an earlier air disaster, in which the author, trying to break the record time in a ParisSaigon race, crashed in the Sahara desert, near the Nile delta. From that, SaintExupery spun a fanciful, faintly ethereal fable about a downed airman who finds himself face-to-face with a curious, blond-haired young boy who claims to be the sole inhabitant of a distant asteroid (B-612), and who regales the pilot with tales of the interplanetary travels that eventually brought him to earth.

Those adventures consist largely of meetings with puffed-up, self-important adults who imagine themselves to be powerful despots, but are, in fact, just orbiting the universe alone on their own similarly uninhabited rocks. But there are also touches of melancholy romance, in the form of the Prince's codependent relationship with a very demanding rose (which sends him fleeing B-612 in the first place), and a darkly poetic ending that can be interpreted as either a salvation or a suicide. Seventy years later, the book's influence can be seen in everything from "The English Patient" to "The Lego Movie."

The novel was scarcely enough material for a feature film, which didn't stop Hollywood from trying one in 1974 - an ill-advised live-action version, directed by "Singin' in the Rain's" Stanley Donen. For the new film, Osborne ("Kung Fu Panda") and screenwriters Irena Brignull ("The Boxtrolls") and Bob Persichetti have taken the generally more effective tack of nesting Saint-Exupery's story within an elaborate framing device set in the kind of modular modern metropolis prophesied by Jacques Tati's "Playtime," full of technology and free of wonder.

It's there that we first meet the otherwise unnamed Little Girl (voiced by Mackenzie Foy), who lives with her single mom (Rachel McAdams) in cookiecutter suburbia and spends every waking moment preparing for her entrance into a highly competitive prep school where students are stripped of the vestiges of childhood and molded into seriousminded, pint-sized adults.

Fortunately for Little Girl, her new next-door neighbor turns out to be an eccentric old Aviator (voiced by the doyen of eccentric old coots, Jeff Bridges), who comes into her life when an errant propeller from his backyard airplane careens into her house, and then sets about telling her his strange desert tale. As he does, "The Little Prince" makes a remarkable stylistic leap from the accomplished but familiar CG environs of these opening scenes into 2D stop-motion animation, bringing the world of SaintExupery's original story to life in beautiful handcrafted images based on the author's own crudely elegant, watercolors. …

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