Making an adaptation of The Little Prince, the much-loved illustrated fable by French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery, could be seen as a dangerous undertaking. Penned in 1943, this slender work of melancholy simplicity is exactly the kind of thing that could be overrun and ruined by the grasping baobab trees of Hollywood.

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Making an adaptation of The Little Prince, the much-loved illustrated fable by French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery, could be seen as a dangerous undertaking. Penned in 1943, this slender work of melancholy simplicity is exactly the kind of thing that could be overrun and ruined by the grasping baobab trees of Hollywood.

Further news that director Mark Osborne (Kung Fu Panda) has "reimagined" the tale sounds dire, like the kind of mistake made by a greedy businessman who claims to own the stars, or by a deluded king undaunted by a complete lack of subjects, or by any of those representatives of the adult world who Saint-Exupery distrusts and disdains. What if Osborne is the kind of blind grown-up who can’t tell the difference between a picture of a boa constrictor who’s swallowed an elephant and an image of a hat?

Never fear, Petit Prince fans. This cartoon adaptation shouldn’t work, but somehow it does. Osborne’s approach isn’t literally faithful to its source, but it is respectful, imbued with affection, originality and some lovely, innovative animation.

If the storyline wanders in the desert a little, especially in the second half, it also has a wonky innocence that feels welcome in a world where children’s movies are often noisy and busy and written by committee.

ONYX FILMS</p><p>The Little Prince’s blend of animation styles is startlingly beautiful.</p>

ONYX FILMS

The Little Prince’s blend of animation styles is startlingly beautiful.

The narrative begins with a contemporary framing device, which sounds like a desperate bid for relevance — yuck — but actually works nicely. The Little Girl (newcomer Mackenzie Foy) is being prepped for grownup life by the Mother (Rachel McAdams), who, like many parents today, is loving but anxious.

The Aviator (Jeff Bridges), an eccentric old man who lives next door, strikes up a friendship with the girl, derailing her detailed study plan with afternoons of time-wasting and whimsy and watching ants on leaves. The Aviator also starts to relate the story of the Little Prince (Riley Osborne), a mysterious visitor from a distant asteroid. This section features some low-key vocal performances, including Marion Cotillard as the Rose, James Franco as the Fox and Ricky Gervais — a bit of typecasting here — as the Conceited Man.

After a traumatic event, the common-sensical world and the realm of imagination begin to blur together, as do the tales of the Little Girl and the Little Prince. Osborne is able to honour the book, especially the notion that "it is only with the heart that one can see rightly." But he also integrates its sad core story into a gentle satire on our overscheduled, overprotected kids, who are often forced to prematurely abandon the wayward wonderment of childhood.

The often startlingly beautiful visuals use computer-generated animation for The Little Girl’s monochromatic modern world, while rendering The Aviator’s flashbacks with clay and paper stop-motion techniques that feel suitably handmade and nubby.

The movie ends with a bit of a narrative pileup, and some Little Prince purists might be put out by Osborne’s additions. But children and grown-ups who watch with their hearts will be rewarded with a very sweet film.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

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