Review: Children's book adaptation 'The Little Prince' a charming enough coup for Netflix
In its short time making movies, Netflix has been many things, both good (haven for mid-budget films) and bad (Adam Sandler enabler). With The Little Prince, it takes on the new role of savior.
The adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's classic children's book was set for a wide theatrical release in March. Then it was pulled from the schedule a week before release, with Paramount perhaps nervous about the big box office returns of fellow all-ages movie Zootopia.
Yet the film was never given a new release date, a fairly baffling decision given its beloved source material, star-studded voice cast and strong reviews. It was then picked up by Netflix, which made it available on Instant on Friday. And the film stands as a solid addition to the company's original movies and children's programming, though it shows some pains in translating the novella into a feature.
For one, the book's events only represent part of the film. The story now also follows a little girl (Mackenzie Foy) who lives in the present, and a third act that combines the two plotlines.
The girl lives in a world filled with Repo Man-esque generic details and a mother (Rachel McAdams) with a hyper-specific life plan for her, including attending a prestigious academy. To ensure her placement, the two move into an expensive neighborhood, where they are only able to afford a house because it is next door to an eccentric old aviator (Jeff Bridges).
It's soon revealed the pilot is an older version of the one who discovered the little prince (voiced by both director Mark Osborne's son Riley and Paul Rudd.) The aviator then regales her with tales of the prince's encounters with a rose (Marion Cotillard), fox (James Franco) and snake (Benicio del Toro).
These moments are the film's strongest, both in its fanciful tone and striking stop-motion animation. The wispy, paper-thin quality of the figures and backdrops ably reflects the gentle fragility of the source material.
Unfortunately these segments only represent part of the film. Most of its running length is devoted to the present-day story, which is rendered in a more traditional, computer-generated visual style.
To be fair, this is by design, with the flights of fancy that are The Little Prince's tales offering a respite from the drab trappings of modern life. Yet these moments are also conventional beyond their visual style, particularly toward the end as it goes into its action-filled climax.
Still, the movie's affinity for the source material is apparent and one imagines Saint-Exupéry would value the lesson not to let our childhoods fade away. Perhaps it's best to think of it less as an adaptation and more as an appreciation of what the book has meant to the world since its initial publication.
Near the end of the film, one character gives another what is essentially a copy of The Little Prince. If this movie convinces more of today's children to pick it up themselves, then it will have succeeded.
The Little Prince
Director: Mark Osborne
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, Marion Cotillard, Benicio Del Toro, James Franco
Screenplay: Irena Brignull and Bob Persichetti, based on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's novella
Rating: PG; mild thematic elements
Running time: 106 min.