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Mar 13

Movie March – The Little Prince

Fantastic Mr. Fox’s career still going strong

Welcome back to Movie March! All month long, we’ll be looking at and reviewing animated films from both the east and the west. Today it’s the turn of Netflix original (except not really, they just bought the rights like so many of their animated endeavours) The Little Prince.

Based off a French novel from the 1940s, it’s gone on to become one of the most successful books of all time, up there with your Harry Potter’s and Lord of the Rings. Picking up awards and acclaim, as well as being one of France’s most successful animated films ever made, it seemed a perfect candidate for the Movie March treatment.

The Little Prince is a film of two tales. The first is… well, The Little Prince. A little kid who loved a rose but left the asteroid she was on and met a bunch of other weird figures with varying negative personality quirks (everyone in this half bar one or two characters is portrayed as bad in some way, including the prince) until he lands on Earth in the desert, where he meets a crashed pilot and the two stay together while he repairs it. Also a fox fits in somewhere. And a snake. I’d be lying if I said I understood half of it.

Framing all of this is the actual story (or is it, ooooh). A girl, never named, and her mother, also never named… actually, nobody is ever named beyond vague titles like “Businessman” or “Conceited Man”. Anyway, in a society which is practically robotic with how they map out every facet of their lives and idolise productivity, our little girl has about two months until she starts at Werth Academy where she can learn to become “Essential”.

There is no subtlety here. It’s genuinely insane how utterly rigid this society is. The mother may as well not have feelings for her daughter, just seeing her as a cog that needs to be refined ready to fit in in the adult world. Neither are shown to have anything in the way of hobbies, friends or anything outside of various shades of grey. In fact, not just them, nobody in the world is. I understand the message, but the execution is laughably blunt.

“So where’s the rogue element?” Thank you for asking, person who’s seen this template a million times before. Next door lives a weird old man, whose house has things like colour and nature and other unnecessary concepts and frivolities. He tries so desperately to reach out to others, but the disconnect between him and them is so strong they all merely look at him like a car crash unfolding on a decades long scale.

Inevitably, the little girl and the old man cross paths and become friends, him introducing a human element to her existence while also letting her read pages from… The Little Prince! There’s your connection. Actually, he claims to be the pilot who crashed in that story, and the relationship goes through the typical wonder, forced separation before inevitable rejoining arc you’ve seen a thousand times. Though credit where it’s due, the first time you step into his garden and house does invoke a genuine sense of wonder from how different it is to the rest of the film’s visuals to this point.

But the true weirdness comes in the third act, where the little girl flies in the now repaired plane to another world where all the characters from the story are alive, and saves the little prince from the essential adult he was forced to become. Is it real? Is it a dream? You’ll never know, but while it does a great job at calling back and repurposing elements from the first two-thirds of the movie… you’ll still leave totally confused, even more so as this essentially represents the end of the film.

It feels like it’s missing a conclusion or resolution. It wants to tell this tale about losing your childhood innocence and memories as you become just another adult, but The Little Prince narrative almost gets in the way of that message, muddying the entire direction of the film.

It misfires in other areas too. There’s a small build-up to the inevitably of death and having to move on while holding those memories in your heart… but then the film keeps its cast alive, so nobody has to evolve. Speaking of evolving, the mother has no arc, instead becoming more acceptive(ish) of her daughter’s newfound friendship and personality literally overnight. But since they’re still following somewhat of a pattern at the end, who knows if anybody actually learned any lessons about the negatives of total conformity and planning your life away! Aaaaaaagh!

Let me talk about something I do love about the film then. The artstyle, when not using the same old CG we’ve seen define western films for a decade or more, looks brilliant. The Little Prince segments often feel like they’re crafted out of paper and wood, and I truly wish it was this artstyle the film embraced, as they present the film at its most creative and enthralling. Even the sketchbook moments stand out. This is all highlighted by one scene towards the end where we see the little prince in CG for the first time and he looks awful.

It’s not that the CG is bad or anything, just… incredibly plain. The best shots are the ones that use elements of the old man’s life, providing such much needed colour and visual interest, or the fox doll the girl carries around, which takes on a life of its own in the last act. I was more interested and captivated by it than girl or prince.

Another element I want to praise is the audio and soundtrack of the film. Combining French songs along with some more classical tunes from yesteryear, the song’s always help set the mood for montages and character moments. They helped provide some of the few moments in the film where I could truly relax and enjoy with questioning what the heck anything meant either to an outsider or within the confines of the film.

And sadly, that constant nagging of my brain being unsure what was happening half the time kind of defined the film. Maybe I didn’t get it, but I saw no reason why this film needed any of The Little Prince narrative. I’d say it would be stronger without it, providing the film with some much needed focus. Maybe then they could spend more time on other narrative ideas, such as the inconsequential father plot which managed to stand out as clever writing despite being literally all of a few lines scattered across the film.

In essence then, The Little Prince is charming in places, but too bewildering to truly enjoy or invest yourself in.

Four down, and halfway done! Stay tuned throughout the month of March for plenty more movie reviews, and if you’ve got any requests, hit us up on Twitter and maybe that’ll be the next film we review…