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Animated ‘The Little Prince’ a charming take on classic tale

Little Girl (voice by Mackenzie Foy) listens intently to the storytelling of her elderly neighbor, The Aviator (voice by Jeff Bridges) in "The Little Prince." |Netflix

We’ve yet to get a masterpiece-level film adaptation of the classic novella “The Little Prince,” but if and until that day comes, this will do just nicely, thank you very much.

“Kung Fu Panda” director Mark Osborne has created a two-fold, beautifully animated interpretation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s beloved 1943 work, which has been translated into hundreds of languages and has become one of the best-selling books of all-time. The film premieres Friday on Netflix.

In addition to the story of the pilot who crashes in the Sahara and meets the little prince, who recounts his amazing and astonishing and magical and heartbreaking life’s history, we have a modern-day (or perhaps even near-futuristic) framing device involving a little girl with a controlling mother and a very eccentric next-door neighbor.

Mackenzie Foy does wonderful voice work as the Little Girl, a bright and tightly wound child who lives with her single mom (Rachel McAdams), who is obsessed with mapping out every inch of her daughter’s future via a giant “Life Plan” board. (When the Little Girl tells her mother she has a new friend, mom says if the Little Girl does well in all her studies, she can see her new friend for a half hour, once a week — next year.)

One day when her mother is off at work, the Little Girl has an encounter with the mysterious old man next door — aka The Aviator (Jeff Bridges). Yes, this long-bearded, colorful and perhaps a little crazy old character is actually the The Aviator from the original adventure, many decades down the road.

The Little Girl discovers an illustrated story written by the old man, and that story of course is the “The Little Prince.” And so we hop back and forth between the Little Girl’s adventures in present day, and the classic elements of the 1943 story, with the Little Girl’s adventures depicted via modern-day CGI, and the story of the Little Prince visualized in delicate, beautiful, sometimes just a tad weird stop-motion animation.

Riley Osborne (the director’s son) sounds just perfect as the Little Prince, and Marion Cotillard lends exquisite vocal tones to The Rose, who is of course an actual Rose and may not be all that special until we learn why she’s special.

The spectacularly talented supporting voice cast includes Paul Rudd, Ricky Gervais, Paul Giamatti, Benicio Del Toro and Albert Brooks. As identifiable as the voices are, these actors never overshadow the subtleties of the dialogue, the nuance of the story. Fine albeit unseen acting work all around.

The music from Hans Zimmer and Richard Harvey is ethereal — at times so perfectly low-key it’s as if it’s part of a dream. The visuals are original and creative.

At times the narrative hiccups, especially in some of the middle section sequences involving the Little Girl’s present-day adventures, and her dealings with mom, who is of course the last to figure out something is going on with her kid. And there’s a LOT going on here, what with the dual story lines and a couple of characters showing up at different ages, and the trippy and deep and fantastical nature of the story.

Then again, “The Little Prince” was always about some big ideas.

★★★

Netflix presents a film directed by Mark Osborne and written by Irena Brignull and Bob Persichetti, inspired by the novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Running time: 108 minutes. Rated PG (for mild thematic elements). Premieres Friday on Netflix.