Film release dates can get weird, especially when it comes to foreign films released in the US. That goes double for animated movies, which might get a small limited release with subtitles (meaning only one or two theatres in LA or New York). If that same film has enough pedigree or buzz, it might get a dub release in theatres up to a year later (although many films never get a wide release–Wolf Children, for example). Still, even by these standards, today’s entry for The Anticipated, Le Petit Prince or The Little Prince, has had one of the weirdest release schedules. Originally this film premiered at the 68th Cannes Film Festival last year before getting a wider French release later that year. Then the film kind of disappeared, much to my chagrin as this film was originally in my 2015 version of this column. Then the film got an American release date backed by Paramount, and was scheduled to come out in March of 2016. Of course, that didn’t happen, as Paramount pulled the plug weeks before it came out (though it did release in Canada at the point). Eventually it was announced that the film would actually be released by Netflix instead of getting a wide theatrical release. It has been a long road to watching this film, but let’s see if this adaptation of the beloved French novella was worth the wait.
Le Petit Prince or The Little Prince (July 29th, 2015/August 5th, 2016)
How was it?
Before we get into this I have to say, it really bothers me that I didn’t have the option to watch this film in French. Especially given that there are various points in the film where words on screen are written in French. I appreciate that a lot of the voice talent for the English version is impressive, with Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, and Paul Rudd to name just a few cast members, but come on, Netflix, let me have the option to watch this film in French with English subtitles. It is very possible that this may have been due to how weird the distribution of this film ultimately was, but as a person that generally is not a fan of dubs, it was kind of annoying. I guess to be fair I should acknowledge that this film was really made as much for America and Canada (just listen to the soundtrack if you want proof of that) as it was for France (it was produced in Montreal), so the English version works really well and it is not like this really hurt the film. Instead, it is simply a minor annoyance as my inner film student would have liked the option to watch in French, especially for the portions of the film that heavily drew from the original novella.
The movie itself was quite good, although it takes about half the film to get really going. A lot of this seems to come from the film trying to figure out the best way to integrate the actual story of The Little Prince into the narrative created for the film, which involves The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy), The Mother (Rachel McAdams), and The Aviator (Jeff Bridges). The weaving of these two stories together is somewhat clumsy, and the first half of the film comes off as a rather traditional children’s movie that moves along at a rather uneventful pace. The major exception to this sense is he increasing realization that The Aviator’s time in this world is limited, and thus you keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Once this shoe does drop, the film picks up immensely, as it finally figures out what kind of movie it really wants to be. The film’s message of about the danger of growing up too fast and how we forget the wonder and feelings we have as children is quite affecting. Combine this with the way the film tackles how people should deal with the loss that inevitably comes with life, and The Little Prince unleashes a deluge of feels that carries through into a heartwarming, yet bittersweet ending. This is a film that is made for children, but doesn’t talk down to them, or hide the truth about the world, which allows it to offer valuable advice instead of simply being a fun kid’s film. In a lot of ways, this film is like the 2012 Japanese film Letter to Momo, which also starts out as a rather traditional animated movie before unleashing a third act that is as emotionally resonant as anything made in quite some time. The endings of both of these films address head on the inevitably of loss in life, and offer encouragement on how to eventually move on with the knowledge that the memories of lost loved ones can never die.
While the story of this film takes some time to stabilize, the animation is on point the entire time. This film makes the wonderful choice to tell the story of The Little Girl via computer animation, while the Little Prince portions are shot with stop-motion. This allows the film to really push the formal differences between the two types of animation and create some very unique visuals. It also allows for a really cool point where The Little Prince’s world becomes part of The Little Girl’s world and he is animated in CG, offering a compelling contrast to how he looked earlier in the film. If nothing else had worked in this film, it would have been a visual delight well worth viewing just to see how it pushes forward the art of animation. Luckily, that is not the only thing this film got right, even in terms of its technical production, as the soundtrack and score for this film is amazing. Hans Zimmer, Richard A. Harvey, and Camille team up to create an auditory treat that helps push the sensory experience of watching this film to a new level of awesome (it’s so good that I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write this).
Of course, the film is not without its flaws. As already mentioned, the first forty minutes of the movie don’t work quite as well as they should. The film can also be a bit confusing to follow at times, as it delicately walks the thin line of metaphor and reality. The arc of The Mother character doesn’t quite work, because she never has a real conversation with The Little Girl that would actually address the issues between the two. Instead the film kind of hand waves it all away so things can end on an upbeat note. Still, this movie eventually figures out how to soar, and deserves praise for ending so well.
Isn’t this based on…?
The French novella The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry? Well, sort of. Only part of the movie is based on the actual story. The Little Girl part of the story seems to be more inspired by the novella, and is more or less a new take on the common concept of a child dealing with what it means to grow up.
Did it warrant its selection in The Anticipated?
Hmm, probably, if only for the visuals alone. This is probably not the best animated film of this year (which is a title held by either Disney’s Zootopia or Makoto Shinkai’s Kimi no Na wa.), but its willingness to play with and blend its animation style is well worth honoring. Through its hybridization of different animation mediums, The Little Prince is able to look very different from other American animated films.
Then there is the manner in which it was released. It is not entirely clear why Paramount decided to drop this movie. It’s possible the film’s core relationship between a little girl and a strange old man left the studio a bit squeamish. The Little Girl basically spends her days with someone who starts out as effectively a stranger without her mother’s knowledge. The relationship is obviously treated as a sweet and tender connection that is in no way improper, but Paramount could have totally been worried about how it would look to parents that the film is encouraging this kind of thing. Now I didn’t have this issue, and in fact felt the relationship did a great job of reminding you of the treasured time spent with your grandfather, which is something most people can relate to, but in this gun shy studio world maybe Paramount didn’t want to risk it.
Netflix had no such issues; picking up The Little Prince just continues to fit the company’s strategy of growing their content library any way it can. This particular instance proves important because it represents Netflix stepping in to save a film from what in the past would have been distribution limbo. Netflix has already shown itself to be a place that will make TV shows no one else will make (Stranger Things is just the latest example of this), but if they are also going to start doing that with movies, a lot of films that have had trouble getting off the ground over the years (like, I don’t know, say the live action Akira adaptation) may finally have a place that can get the film seen. As with any Netflix distributed content, there is no real way to say how it did financially, other than to acknowledge that it will be accessible on far more screens than it ever would have been with a theatrical release, and to hope that Netflix will give us the data at some point. Still, until now Netflix had been entering the film realm slowly, mostly trying to get the distribution rights to prestige films (ala The Beasts of No Nation) and working to fulfill their strange blood pact with Adam Sandler. If The Little Prince represents Netflix taking a new step into distributing non-traditional films, especially of the animated and foreign variety, that will prove to be a huge deal going forward.
Would I recommend it to others?
Yes, this is a visually stunning film that is good for all ages, and works especially well as a nice change of pace from the other films this year. Thanks to Netflix, it’s convenient to watch, and the movie is well worth the click for anyone who enjoys animation or kid’s movies that don’t talk down to children.
How would I rate it?
The hype for this film wasn’t exactly large, so the handy dandy antic-o-meter might not be the best tool, but this film both proved good and may be a big part of Netflix’s growing influence in the film world, so The Little Prince receives 7.5 roses out of 10. This movie is a breath of idealistic air compared to what the rest of this year has mostly offered, and proved to be as beautiful a visual and auditory experience as the original trailer suggested.
For an actual rating: This film ends well, but its beginning is a bit jumbled. Still, the beginning isn’t bad (as, say, the beginning of Ghostbusters was), just somewhat uninspired, as it struggles with the set-up and is a little bit uneven with its characterizations. It just ends so well that a lot of The Little Prince‘s flaws can be forgiven. Ultimately, this film really does most strongly compare to Letter to Momo in terms of quality so it gets the same rating of 3.5 stars out of 4. There is enough wrong with the film to keep it from the four star pinnacle, but it is still a really good movie and well worth a watch.
That’s it for this edition of The Anticipated. Next up is still a bit up in the air, so I’ll get back to you on that. Just depends on which films I can get to from the backlog–or Laika’s Kubo and The Two Strings, whichever comes first.
Until then I will just leave you this: