Last week, after much waiting and studio politicking and other industry stupidity, The Little Prince finally made its debut on Netflix. Based on the beautiful French novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, it’s not a chick flick, per se. But this modern retelling broadens its reach by making the focus of its story a little girl to remind us that childhood, loss, and growing up unite us all.

THE LITTLE PRINCE
Director: Mark Osborne
Writers: Irena Brignull, Bob Persichetti; based on the novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Key Cast: Mackenzie Foy, Jeff Bridges, Riley Osborne, Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd

In Short
A little girl meets her wacky aviator neighbor, who tells her the story of his friend The Little Prince. When the old man falls ill, the little girl tries to track down the Prince and finds that he’s grown up and lost sight of what he loved — his rose and his friends. She helps him find his inner child so that she can help the old man find peace before they say good-bye.

As Cinema
Adapting a story as beloved as The Little Prince is no small feat, but Mark Osborne and his team managed to do so beautifully. Utilizing four different types of animation, including CGI, hand drawings, and stop motion, they are able to honor the original and its timeless illustrations while still finding ways to bring it to the present in a way that feels fresh and organic. The sheer visual beauty of the production caused me to tear up more than once, and that’s not even touching on the story.

A true surrealist fantasy, Little Prince does not get bogged down in the current trend of over-explaining everything. It trusts its audience to be on board, even as the little girl flies a propeller plane to another planet in order to save her friend. In this way, it honors the original story and its mission to perpetuate the imagination of childhood. That level of trust only enhances the story’s themes as it starts to feel like a familiar yarn spun by an old and dear friend, even on the first viewing.

Movie - The Little Prince 2

The Horror
As I mentioned above, The Little Prince is not actually a chick flick. It is about as universal as it gets, since it is a movie about growing up and loving and losing — the most essential parts of being human. But the filmmakers did something genuinely surprising and special. Rather than stick with the all-male cast of characters in the original, it expanded to include a girl. Not only that, but the little girl in this movie struggles to stand out, to be a high-achiever at the behest of her single mother. It’s such an honest and real conflict — marginalized people are often told they have to perform twice as well in order to be considered half as good. This girl’s mother isn’t a task master out of meanness; she does not want her daughter to be the best for her own benefit. The mother demands so much out of a sense of love and a knowledge that the adults in this world only value anyone for their earning potential. It’s this very real-life struggle that really drives home the themes that childhood is important for everyone, especially those for whom the burden of life in a corporate-driven society is the heaviest. It’s such a nuanced, smart, and special take on the subject matter — carefully considered without feeling forced. It never feels like a risk or that the filmmakers were trying to make a point, and it’s the normalization of this storyline and these characters that make it so exciting after the fact. By presenting marginalized people and their daily struggles as part of an older, well-regarded story, it both normalizes them and makes them “unique in all the world.”

On top of all that, the little girl is not only special in her struggle. She is the hero of her story, but she has an epic emotional journey in order to get there. The little girl is a brat, and she is mean after the old man has given so much of himself for her. She has to swallow her pride in order to find the Prince and give the old man hope as he passes into the next life. When she finds the Prince, she has to become a hero on a planet full of adults that literally do not believe in her. So often, when filmmakers throw women a bone and let them take the lead, they idealize them, neutering their flaws. This benevolent sexism still prevents female characters from appearing fully human. The Little Prince avoids that pitfall and gives us a girl who makes cheering for her a bit difficult at times. Of course they redeem her, but isn’t that the point? She is a real hero in a real story, complete with arcs and everything!

The Little Prince is currently on Netflix and in select theaters, rescued from Paramount studio politics, and looking to make an Oscar push this winter. It is truly a magical piece of cinema, worth taking the time to savor. I genuinely hope you will.

 

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