Netflix Release: The Little Prince (2016)
The Little Prince was a beloved novella in my childhood, as I was drawn to the melancholy nature of the story and loved the whimsical art that adorned the pages. It was written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 1943, but the story of love and redemption remains timeless. It has had many adaptations since it was written, to include a 1974 live action film and even an anime series in the late seventies. This newest version directed by Mark Osborne (Kung Fu Panda) and for the most part is a faithful adaption of the story though it tries to modernize it by adding extra elements not present in the original novella.
The actual story of the Prince is presented in its entirety but this is surrounded by a brand new parallel narrative concerning a little girl (who is never named) who's mother is trying to enroll her into the prestigious Werth Academy. The little girl meets an old retired aviator (voiced by Jeff Bridges) who then regales her with the tales of The Little Prince. What is interesting about this film is the story of the little girl is animated with computer animation and the parts of the film about the Prince are animated with stop-motion. I found the stop-motion segments to be gorgeously done, as they have a paper-mâché aesthetic that is quaint. Though it isn't terrible, the CGI animation just looks bland and generic in comparison and I wish they had done the entire film with the stop-motion style.
While The Little Prince story segments are well done, the "bookend" narrative with the girl is less engaging and a little forced. It's apparent that it was added to make the film more interesting to modern children, but it ends up playing out like a Pixar-lite homage. It attempts to tie into the fantastical nature of the Prince's space adventures, but it never quite gels together. The tone of the original story is a little somber and surreal and that coupled with the different animation styles makes it seem like two different movies glued together. Making the protagonist a young girl does make it more relatable to both genders, but it's hampered by the slightly clumsy meshing of the two narratives. On a whole it isn't bad, however, and doesn't ruin the film.
The Little Prince boasts excellent voice acting, featuring the talents of: James Franco, Paul Rudd, Benicio del Toro, Ricky Gervais, and Paul Giamatti. Hans Zimmer and Richard Harvey collaborated on the musical score which is quite nice and fits the atmosphere of the film perfectly. This film, for whatever reason, did not get a full theatrical release in the states (only playing at the Santa Barbara Film Festival), but Netflix was nice enough to pick up the slack and give it a home on its streaming service. It's too bad because this is a lovely movie that would have been a nice change of pace from all the full computer animated films that are dominating animation right now. Even if you don't enjoy CGI, this film is worth the watch just to see the beautifully animated stop-motion segments and is a great way to introduce fresh minds to the story of The Little Prince.