The Little Prince

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A pilot crashes in the desert and meets a little boy from a distant planet in The Little Prince. Out of Competition in Cannes.
"Mark Osborne's gently unfolding palimpsest of a film is a sweet tribute to generations of readers who have been enchanted by the prince."

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's delicately framed tale of a stranded aviator and a lonely prince sites alongside The Hobbit and Alice In Wonderland as one of few children's books that can truly be described as legendary. So much so, in fact, that the multiple stories of how it has impacted readers have become almost as familiar as the story itself, which has been subject to endless reinterpretation. Picking it up here, writers Irena Brignull and Bob Persichetti have wisely declined to deliver a straight adaptation, which would inevitably struggle to satisfy fans. Instead, what we have here is a story about the story, as a little girl discovers the little prince and the value of imagination.

The girl, voiced by Mackenzie Foy, is living in a world focused entirely on materialism. It's a grey world full of straight lines, charts and numbers, imagery likely to horrify young viewers who fail to anticipate that something more colourful is on the way. For her birthday, the girl's mother gives her a life planner with everything mapped out, hour to hour, so that she can acquire the skills necessary to win a place at a prestigious school. Despite this grim situation, it's clear that there is love between the two, and the girl is determined to meet her mother's expectations - until, that is, she meets the aviator (Jeff Bridges) who lives next door.

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The modern, conventional framework provided by the budding friendship between hesitant girl and eccentric old man is sufficiently different from the tale of the little prince, which the aviator gradually tells, to make it accessible to a wider range of viewers without detracting from its magic. Importantly, Saint-Exupéry's melancholy is preserved, though it takes a little while to be revealed and the ending isn't quite as bleak as in the book. It's the interaction of a sanguine realism with a celebration of the liberating effect of the imagination that makes the magic happen. That, and the exquisite animation. Some of the best seen in cinemas in the past year - up there with the likes of Lima - it remains true to Saint-Exupéry's original illustrations whilst giving them luminous life.

Despite the different framing of the story, many favourite characters are here: the vain rose (given an awkward dignity by Marion Cotillard); the philosophical fox (a curiously well behaved James Franco); and the conceited man (Ricky Gervais). At first they are storybook creatures but as the girl begins to let loose with her imagination they become a part of her world. The old man is in fragile health. Despite refusing to believe in the prince at first, the girl becomes convinced that he holds they key to making everything better, and becomes determined to find him.

Mark Osborne's gently unfolding palimpsest of a film is a sweet tribute to generations of readers who have been enchanted by the prince. it maintains the political, anti-materialist edge that made some contemporary critics ask whether the book was really appropriate for children, but though it is occasionally too slow or dry, it is also full of wonder. Affectionately rendered characters and fine performances from the impressive cast provide plenty to appeal to younger viewers. There's none of the clamour and slapstick that we've grown used to in films aimed at this age group, but there's still a good deal of fun, and there's a thoughtfulness, a whimsy that is hard to find elsewhere. It's a film for those sill ready to believe that the magic of the cinema can transport them to another world.

Reviewed on: 20 Jan 2017
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The Little Prince packshot
A girl's life is transformed when she learns the story of a pilot who once crashed in the desert and met a little boy from a distant planet.

Director: Mark Osborne

Writer: Irena Brignull and Mark Osborne, based on the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Starring: Rachel McAdams, Mackenzie Foy, James Franco, Marion Cotillard, Jeff Bridges, Benicio Del Toro, Ricky Gervais

Year: 2015

Runtime: 108 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: France

Festivals:

Cannes 2015
SSFF 2017

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