Book vs Movie: The Little Prince

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“In the course of my life I have had many encounters with a great many people who have been concerned with matters of consequence. I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have seen them intimately, close at hand. And that hasn’t much improved my opinion of them.”

It’s possible that The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is one of the hardest books to adapt to film. It’s not just that the story is deceptively simple or that a big part of it relies on your imagination and willingness to allow things to not make any sense. It’s also that if you’ve grown up with this book it probably means an awful lot to you. And those stories that mean something to people are the hardest ones to bring to life on-screen. Because ultimately film adaptation is about making choices, and when a book is this well-known and loved, there is a pretty big possibility that you won’t agree with all of the director’s choices, which will leave you feeling disappointed.

That being said, I really like what director Mark Osborne decided to do with his version of The Little Prince. I think it would be easy to dismiss his movie because of the addition of the mother-daughter narrative. This Guardian review did just that by referring to it as a “Disneyfied empowerment yarn”. But to me, it seems as though Osborne knows the book well and understands what it means to people, and that the narrative he added was just his way of bringing something new to the story. He had this to say about it to the Observer:

“The book was so important to me and important to many people and I also knew that it’s different for everybody. Everybody has their own version. So you can’t really make a film of the book. So that’s when I started to think…maybe I should put the book into somebody’s imagination…really I had to create a mirror character of our experience: someone gives the book to you, you read it and it changes your life.”

Osborne also said this to NPR:

“I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of expanding on the book, or using the book as sort of the beating heart at the centre of a larger story that was about the experience that one can have with the book.”

With regards to the differences between the book and movie versions of The Little Prince, it’s safe to say that this isn’t a straight adaptation. There are a lot of differences, but the ongoing theme of adults being a certain way, focused on things like grammar and math and wanting nothing to do with creativity, runs throughout both. But that theme is very much amplified in the film with the addition of the mother who schedules every minute of her daughter’s life, even time for friendship. It was a very exaggerated look at this adult vs. child idea, but I think it worked quite well. She is clearly overcompensating for being a single mother, she wants the best for her child. That’s something everyone can understand. In other words, she’s not enforcing the rules for no reason, so you don’t completely hate her. But at the same time you really want her daughter to break free and go against the rules. So when The Little Girl doesn’t do things according to her schedule, you are totally on her side.

We meet The Little Prince through the girl who develops a sweet friendship with her neighbour, The Aviator. The film includes some of the illustrations from the book, like the boa constrictor eating the elephant and the various versions of the sheep, including the box one. (“The sheep you asked for is inside.”)

The hand-drawn paper cut-outs used in the film are stunning, and the French-tinged score by Hans Zimmer and Richard Harvey is lovely (I’m listening to it on Spotify as I write this). And speaking of French, here’s an interesting side note. Osborne’s version of The Little Prince had its debut at Cannes in 2015 and was a huge success in France, it even won the César for Best Animated Feature. But right before its release in the U.S., Paramount dropped it. Thankfully, Netflix picked it up, so even though we couldn’t see it in theatres we could at least curl up under a blanket and watch it at home.

The film doesn’t include all the characters from the book. They left out The Tippler, who drinks to forget that he is ashamed of drinking. They also left out the lamplighter and the old geographer, the merchant selling pills that save you 53 minutes a week. But I loved Ricky Gervais as The Conceited Man, Albert Brooks as The Businessman, and Benicio Del Toro as The Snake. A highlight for me was the relationship with The Fox (voiced by James Franco) and subsequent animation of the stuffed fox. Can someone make me one, please? Here’s a tutorial to help you.

The only thing I didn’t like about Osborne’s The Little Prince was the ending. I won’t spoil anything for you but let’s just say that when The Little Girl meets up with Mr. Prince on the weird planet, things kind of fell apart for me. Overall though, this movie was true to the spirit of Saint-Exupéry’s work and made me want to reread his book immediately.

There have been other adaptations of The Little Prince, of course. And I’m sure there will be more. I’ve heard the 1974 musical version is pretty awful but I might watch it anyway just to see Gene Wilder as The Fox. If the book means too much to you to even fathom watching a movie version, I completely understand. But if you decide to give Mark Osborne’s animated feature a try, I don’t think it will disappoint you.

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