Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s children’s novella, translated to English in 1943, is mostly about the anal retentiveness of adulthood. This adaptation of The Little Prince doubles down on that notion with a framing device about a little girl being prepped for her first day at a high-stakes private school by her hyper-organized, corporate-striving single mother. The girl gets a breath of fresh air when she meets her older neighbor (voiced by Jeff Bridges), a former pilot who tells her about the time he crashed in an African desert and came across a peculiar little prince.
In theory, the narrative bridge makes sense, but in practice the connection between these two story lines isn’t very smooth, largely because there is a huge gap in the animation styles. The contemporary narrative unfolds in standard, boxy computer animation that isn’t without its moments of artistry, but is mostly routine. The passages drawn directly from Saint-Exupéry’s sketches, meanwhile, employ a combination of paper animation and stop-motion puppetry, so that the pilot and prince have a translucent delicacy that marks them as rare and precious. There is both a fragility and immediacy to the imagery—as if watching it might give you a paper cut.
If director Mark Osborne and his team came up with a lovely way to evoke Saint-Exupéry’s imagery, they were less successful with the plot. To be fair, The Little Prince is a bewildering collection of odd digressions, loosely connected by the idea that growing up means losing the ability to wonder, and maybe even love. The prince, we learn, is visiting from a small planet where he cared for a single rose. On his way to earth, he visits other planets—populated by lonely, callous adults—until he lands in the desert and meets the pilot. Weaving vignettes from that tale into a new, contemporary narrative makes The Little Prince awfully unwieldy, especially by the time the movie contorts itself into an action-packed climax. I would have been happier to have been left in the desert with the prince.