The truest mark of a great children’s movie, if one exists, is to once more feel like a child while watching, and to do so without ever feeling insulted or talked down to. To be immersed, educated, and transformed while also entertained, regardless of whether you’re an adult or child. With that in mind, it hasn’t been a bad year for animated films. Finding Dory managed to not only justify it’s questionable existence as a sequel to a decade old film (that worked just fine one its own), but also delicately and sympathetically shed light on the hardships of living with a mental disability (and living with some who’s mentally disabled). Zootopia provided a fresh, funny blend of buddy cop thriller tropes and punchy real world commentary on prejudice and stereotypes. Even Kung Fu Panda 3 provided some of the most dynamic and dazzling action scenes of any blockbuster this year (in the January dumping ground no less). But this past weekend, the animated children’s film to beat didn’t barrel it’s way into theater to lay waste to box office records. Instead, it snuck in through the back door of online streaming.
Distributed as a Netflix original film after being dropped by Paramount, The Little Prince is a U.S/ French/ Canadian-produced adaptation of the famed novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. A stunning hybrid of computer-generated animation and stop-motion, the film features a tour de force of visual ingenuity, a stellar voice cast and the earnest, thoughtful storytelling that made the original novella such a revered classic. The film utilizes stop motion to bring the original novella to life while using CG for an original tale that bookends the known story. In this new story, a young girl (voiced by Mackenzie Foy), pushed hard to succeed by her organized, overachieving mother (Rachel McAdams), learns the importance of holding on to the values of a child when she hears the extraordinary tale of the little prince and his journey across space to Earth. The tale is told to the young girl by her senile ex-pilot neighbor (the human protagonist of the novella, voiced by Jeff Bridges). As with any adaptation of the classic story, the movie covers a myriad of philosophical themes, ranging from the facing inevitability of death, faith vs the known, conformity vs nonconformity, loss and the reclaiming of innocence and finding meaning in a busy, apathetic world through singular, unique bonds between people. Not once does the film pander to its audience with base humor or superfluous slapstick. It know exactly when to be funny and when to take itself and its audience seriously, delivering every philosophical point with poise and nuance.
While diehard fans of the source material may be put out by the inclusion of new content (and at such an extensive level), American director Mark Osbourne grounds new additions with humanistic charm, never once “Americanizing” this emphatically French story. The new content is integrated into that of the classic seamlessly, never abandoning or distorting the themes of the novella, but rather illustrating them to the further extent that a feature film length allows. When all is said and done, I can’t imagine a more perfect children’s film to define the terms of all others to come out this year. The Little Prince is an emotional marvel of animated film making that deserves to be seen, and I cannot fathom why it was dropped by Paramount. Whatever the reason may be, it was a colossal mistake on their part.