The new Netflix original animated movie, The Little Prince follows an unnamed Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy) through a summer vacation that looks like an academic boot camp with her mother (Rachel McAdams) as the drill sergeant. In the midst of her gray, monochrome existence, she meets the Aviator (Jeff Bridges), her eccentric next door neighbor who unlocks her imagination as he regales her with the story about a little prince who lives on asteroid B-612.
The beloved 1943 novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is expertly brought to the big screen by director, Mark Osborne (Kung Fu Panda). Combining Pixar-quality computer generated animation with stop-motion photography, the style serves the story well. In order to make the transition from short story to film, Osborne adds to the narrative a little girl caught up in an unattractive adult world. When her single mother goes to work, Little Girl follows the ‘life plan,’ a strict schedule of study and daily living laid out on a magnetic board. Adherence to said schedule supposedly leads to success at the Werth Academy. Instead, she sneaks next door to spend time with the Aviator and his stories about the Little Prince.
At the Aviator’s knee, Little Girl experiences the joy of being a kid. She wonders at all the books and gadgets in the Aviator’s house. She learns to use her imagination and cares deeply about the characters in the tale being woven by the old man. The Aviator also teaches her about loss and loneliness. In some ways, although it is not shown in the film, he prepares Little Girl for his death.
The Little Prince is a movie for both kids and adults. The story of the Little Prince’s exploits will entertain the kids and the deep philosophical insights will challenge the adult audience to think about how they live their lives. It all comes down to what is essential. The film critiques modern capitalism and its focus on productivity and ownership. Anything not deemed essential gets destroyed. Why? Because the adults have forgotten the wonder and awe that comes natural to children. In a flight of fancy, Little Girl takes off in the Aviator’s plane determined to rescue the Little Prince from the adult world and help him remember what it was like when he lived on his asteroid with his Rose.
The theme of adults who spend too much time at work to the detriment of their families is not new in film. Movies like Nine Lives, 17 Again, RV, The Family Man, and the Tim Allen version of The Shaggy Dog, all deal with this topic. In these films the wake-up call comes from some weird situation like being turned into a cat or dog or teenager. I like that in The Little Prince it is the child herself who draws her mother out of her the work-obsessed routine and helps her to once again look through eyes open to wonder and awe. Both Little Girl and Mother learn that what is truly essential can only be seen with the eyes of the heart.