The Little Prince (Mark Osborne, 2015) : France
Reviewed by Nathan Pécout. Viewed at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, at the Arlington Theatre.
Director Mark Osborne paid homage to Saint-Exupery’s original work more than adapting it with The Little Prince. Served by CGI that recalls some Pixar pictures (due to the presence of production designer Lou Romano who work on Monsters, Inc (Pete Docter, 2001), The Incredibles (Brad Bird, 2004) and Up (Pete Docter, 2009) between others) and stop-motion animation, Osborne’s version is, like the original novel, a kid tale for adults.
The film takes place in a modern society that we could almost call a dystopia. Everything is too square : the houses, the streets, the cars, all the same. We can witness this formatting through the successive shots showing a dezooming eye-in-the-sky view of the endless grey neighborhood where the little girl and her mom leave. This mise-en-scène pictures a very stressful and uncomfortable environment for the viewer. The rationalization is also enhanced by the character of the mother : she is absolutely formated in everything she does and tries to push her daughter on the same path. Her dream is that her child integrates the Werth Academy, a terrifying school that breaks every single aspect of the personality of its students. This concept will be reused in the sequence in the Little Prince’s world with the factory, directed by the same authoritarian man, that destroys every toy and object of leisure to make paper clips. The association of school to a factory that formats kids recalls a sequence from The Wall (Alan Parker, 1982). In this world that is too grown-up and smothered by rationalization, the little girl will make a crucial encounter.
One single house differs in the neighborhood, the one that belongs to the aviator. After the propeller of his plane destroys a wall of the girl’s house and muddles up her perfectly regulated world, she will grow some curiosity to this intriguing character. Everything that relates to the aviator contrasts with the world the story takes place in : the shape and colors of his house are eccentric and irregular, the music he plays on his old record-player is light and invites to daydreaming. But above everything, he will introduce her to the story of the Little Prince. First showing reluctance and a lack of imagination toward it, the little girl will progressively let herself drown into this fantasy world. Here appears a second type of animation, in stop-motion this time. The design of this animation is very true to the original book and contrasts once more with the little girl’s usual environment : the dunes and the Little Prince’s scarf evoke fluidity just like the aviator’s beard, very far from the square regularity of what she knew before. But a motif always takes her out of her reverie : the constant beeps of her watch, of her alarm-clock who call her back to reality. Another important scene shows the destroying of her dreams, when her mom furiously shreds the pages of the Little Prince story the little girl got from the aviator, shredding her dreams at the same time. But the story will give reason to imagination, and the little girl’s story will merge with the one of the Prince. Both were lonely in their life and encountered the aviator, her anger against the Little Prince and his story at one point of the film reflects the disillusion she feels for her own life. The absence of a real name for them, being designated only by the little girl/the Little Prince also emphasizes on their similarity. A graphic and sound match cut between the girl and the Prince finishes to build a connection between these two characters.
Despite its childish aspect, The Little Prince contains some very dark aspects. The perspective of death is present through a big part of the film : the aviator is very old and is afraid his story will die with him soon if he doesn’t transmit it to someone; the father is absent, and we could wonder if he is still alive. I even interpreted the little girl’s trip to the stars as her own death after she falls from the pipeline : she goes through a tunnel with a white light at the end, she goes to the sky… Until this theory got taken down by the end of the film.
The Little Prince is an extremely rich film in terms of messages and symbolism. Mark Osborne’s work is to be praised because he revisited the story by taking an alternative approach to adaptation. The incorporation of elements from the original book makes this film faithful to Saint-Exupery’s work : a tale for everybody that was a child once.