Even if you don’t remember much from your high school French class (something like “Je voudrais du fromage” — “I would like some cheese” — springs to mind, but nothing else), chances are you can loosely recall reading The Little Prince, or Le Petit Prince. Now, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic tale of the crash-landed pilot who encounters alien royalty in the desert is hitting the big screen this Friday. (Well, some big screens; theatrical release is limited, but it’s also being released on Netflix the same day.)
In this animated adaptation, a young girl (voiced by Mackenzie Foy) is harrowed by her mother’s (Rachel McAdams) intense study program, and befriends the old man next door, the Aviator (Jeff Bridges), who tells her his tale of meeting The Little Prince and the lessons he learned. James Franco, Marion Cotillard, Benicio Del Toro and Paul Giamatti also lend their voice-acting skills, and the film was directed by the team behind Kung-fu Panda. But will your kid enjoy the film adaptation of The Little Prince (a parable that’s traditionally resonated more with adults) as much as watching a Jack Black panda kick butt and scarf down sushi? Here’s what the critics say.
For Kids: Kids should know going in that this isn’t your standard colorful, upbeat, laughs-a-minute animated journey. But critics think they’ll enjoy The Little Prince, with the right mindset. “Saint-Exupéry’s darker tones and intense emotions are all here, echoing the Little Girl’s own self-discovery in a dual narrative that dares to be more evocative and sophisticated than children are accustomed to,” writes Radheyan Simonpillai for NOW Toronto.
“Children and grown-ups who watch with their hearts will be rewarded with a very sweet film.”
If that makes it sound like The Little Prince might be a gateway drug to Sartre that your kid’s not quite ready for, rest assured that there’s still plenty of childlike wonder to be found. Brad Wheeler of the Globe and Mail calls it, “A whimsical journey in favour of following dreams and finding life’s true loves — a film for young audiences as well as for the oldies who’ve lost their way.” Alison Gillmor of the Winnipeg Free Press writes, “Children and grown-ups who watch with their hearts will be rewarded with a very sweet film.” And if your kid sits through the whole thing and announce they were bored, well, they were still rewarded with very sweet movie theater candy.
For You: Critics can’t stop gushing over the beauty of the animation in this film, calling it an antidote to the animated burn-out you might be feeling on gibberish-talking Minions and street-talking dogs and cats. “It’s a relief to realize that there are great animation films to be made outside of Pixar, films that stimulate the imagination of both children and adults alike,” says Oscar Uriel, of Cine.
You might actually love it even more than your kids, especially if you’re a fan of the book. James Mottram writes for the South China Morning Post, “Even if the kids are left wanting more, purists will doubtless be pleased with Mark Osborne’s reverential take on Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s 1943 tale.” Katherin Monk of Ex-Press.com agrees, but makes it clear that you shouldn’t expect a straight adaption: “It won’t destroy your precious memories of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic, but you may feel a frisson of betrayal in the final moments that forces you to scan the bookcase back home for the original.”
Common Sense’s Take: Common Sense Media, the leading nonprofit source for helping parents make movie and TV choices for kids, gives The Little Prince 3 stars overall and notes some lower ratings in the Violence and Positive Role Models categories. There are some surprisingly dark moments, like a scene where the little girl is trapped in a factory and threatened by the machines, and references to death and suicide throughout the film. And the Aviator, though well-intentioned, takes the little girl down some pretty dangerous paths. But, the moral of the story is the same as in the book — take time to enjoy life — and in this day and age, that’s something kids and parents both need to hear. As Common Sense says, “In this busy, modern world, where kids are hyper-scheduled and pressured from a young age, they sometimes don’t get the chance to just be a kid — which isn’t good.”
“In a time where films and television shows are lauded for how ‘faithful’ they are in adapting another person’s work, I think what The Little Prince accomplishes is more impressive — a tribute, true to its source material and original unto itself.”
Bottom Line: The Little Prince is an enjoyable movie and an impressive spectacle of animation, though it might not be the best option for younger kids. As far as it being faithful to the spirit of the source material, critics are somewhat divided. Depending on your relationship with the book, it may feel like some of the plot elements added to frame the new story in the film dilute the fantastical components of the original. But, a direct remake isn’t always the most fun to watch onscreen either, and there’s something to be said for a film that can pull off inventive adaptation properly. As Garry Shannon of The Young Folks writes, “In a time where films and television shows are lauded for how ‘faithful’ they are in adapting another person’s work, I think what The Little Prince accomplishes is more impressive — a tribute, true to its source material and original unto itself.”
Running Time: 108 minutes