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Trippy imagination

‘The Little Prince’ is a poignant reimagining

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s fable, “The Little Prince,” has been adapted many times, into many forms, since its publication in 1943. My introduction to Saint-Exupéry’s world is tied to one of my first film memories—the 1974 Lerner and Loewe, live-action musical version directed by Stanley Donen. 

It’s a trippy film, a product of its time, but it was a trippy children’s story to begin with: a pilot, stranded after a crash landing in the Sahara Desert, meets a boy prince who has fallen to Earth after abandoning his true love, The Rose (as in a literal rose) on his home asteroid, B-612. The boy prince tells the pilot of his adventures across the vastness of space, reminding him to never forget what it was like to be a child. Growing up is OK. Just don’t forget. 

This latest iteration of “The Little Prince,” beautifully animated and packed with a star-studded voice cast (Rachel McAdams, Jeff Bridges, Paul Rudd, and Marion Cotillard, to name a few), stays true to the themes of the original novella while, in a modern context, feminizing what has traditionally been a boy’s story.

The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy) moves to a depressing, cookie-cutter neighborhood with The Mother (McAdams). A tiger mom of the worst kind, The Mother has chosen this place so that The Little Girl can attend a prestigious public prep school. She has her daughter’s life mapped out down to the nanosecond.

Next door to their identical box house sits the ramshackle home of The Aviator (Bridges), a kooky old man held in contempt by his neighbors, who are waiting for him to kick the bucket so they can raze the eyesore he lives in.

The Aviator befriends The Little Girl and regales her with his story of “The Little Prince.” Adventures (and some on-the-nose social commentary) ensue. 

While they probably should have figured out something else to call this, since the inclusion of The Little Girl has the effect of rendering the title somewhat moot, “The Little Prince” is still an expertly crafted near-masterpiece.

The animation brings the world to life across a variety of styles, including CG on par with Pixar and Dreamworks, hand-drawn interludes, and lovely, papier-mâché-style stop motion animation.

While the actors are earnest, director Mark Osbourne (“Kung Fu Panda”) can’t quite wrangle the story into something organic. It often feels like there are two movies competing for our attention—Exupery’s original story and the newly imagined framework—but both of them are entertaining and imaginative, though I can imagine the little ones getting bored by some of the film’s bigger ideas about human nature and capitalism.

“The Little Prince” is poignant and whimsical, which is about as much as you can ask of one’s imagination. Now streaming on Netflix.

For more from Joe, read his review of "Suicide Squad."