… then put it back together again.
“Growing up is not the problem… forgetting is.”
Originally written in French by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the English version of the Le Petit Prince that just debuted on Netflix two days ago lives up to the philosophy that one must never forget his/her inner child.
Children may be able to relate the film’s core message, as they’re stuck in boxes, trying to live up to the “life plan” their parents set before them, before they even figure out what they want to be when they grow up.
In the opening scene, a little girl (Mackenzie Foy) is asked this “big question” and she responds, in front of a panel of judges to determine whether she’s fit to attend Werf Academie. She mistakenly starts spouting lines her mother fed her about why she would be a good candidate, without even hearing the question they put forth. Then, of course, she snaps to reality and promptly passes out.
The next day, the propeller off a plane comes flying through her kitchen wall, thus leading her to confront the older gentlemen next door, who lives his life through pure imagination alone, and a pocket stuffed with bologna sandwiches.
The dichotomy of an older “grown up” showing a little girl how to be a child lends the story arc some oomph. In de Saint-Exupéry’s book, there is no little girl or old man, just the little prince (voiced by Riley Osborne, son of director Mark Osborne), who’s wise beyond his years. We don’t know how long the little prince has been “alive”, but you can’t pick apart the facts of a story like this, though the little girl does try.
After the aviator (Jeff Bridges, the old man next door) shares the beginning of the story of the little prince, she breaks it down, as an adult would, declaiming its ludicrousy.
Steadily, she becomes intrigued enough to befriend the stuffed fox (representing the fox in the story) the old man sewed together, while neglecting her daily duties to eat an apple with tea at exactly 3 p.m., and study all day, save for clearly laid out breaks as designated by her mother.
As viewers who may not have read the book, you could either become skeptical of the notion that the drawing of a box might better resemble the idea of a sheep, than a drawing of a sheep, or you could entirely swing the other way and start bawling your eyes out when you see the little prince fly away from his home, asteroid B-612, and his first love (Marion Cotillard, the rose), out of confusion, mistrust, and inexperience.
He visits other worlds, asteroids 325, 326, and 327, where he first meets a man (Bud Cort) who proclaims himself as king of the entire universe, yet he cannot command the sun to set, “until conditions are favorable”. The little prince then meets a man (Ricky Gervais) who needs acclaim. “That’s a funny hat you’re wearing,” says the little prince, to which the man responds, “It’s for tipping, you see, clap your hands, praise me, admire me.”
At the third world, there’s a man (Albert Brooks) behind a large desk, stacked high with papers. He’s busily crunching numbers, explaining to the little boy who asks too many questions, “I own all the stars.” “But, why must you own them?” asks the boy. “They make me rich. So, I can buy more stars.”
It’s all sort of revelatory to someone who frequently questions the meaning of life. Why are we here? Are we following the right path in our careers? Do our children respect us? Are we good people?
Then, the little prince lands upon Earth, where he befriends the aviator, who must sacrifice his friendship to the child who taught him so much. The child is a bit like Buddha. He understands that “nobody feels bad about an abandoned shell”, and disappears into the ether, via a voluntary injection of venom (the snake, voiced by Benicio del Toro).
“The stars are beautiful, because of a flower that cannot be seen. The desert is beautiful, because it hides a well.”
And through all of the danger and the doubt, comes the pivotal moment in the film that veers the little girl on a course toward the conclusion (come on, I can’t give away every single scene, here). I’m grateful it ended the way it did, whether it followed the book or not.
“You’re going to be a great grown up,” the aviator says, cradling the little girl in his arms while he’s sitting upright in the hospital bed. Her mother mouths the words, “Thank you,” while standing in the doorway.
As an adult, if you stick it through, I promise, this movie will get to you. It will break your heart, then put it back together again, as you can relate to all of the struggles of being an adult, while staying sane, and keeping that inner child of yours alive and kicking. And if you’re a movie buff, you’ll find much satisfaction in the beautiful craftsmanship produced by both the stop-motion and CGI teams for The Little Prince.
I have a slight obsession with existentialism and allegories, and this one took the cake back in college French class, smashing the two concepts together — like Pie à la Mode — and watching the movie, today, has encouraged me to rethink pretty much everything and put life in a new perspective.
The major takeway? Fly a kite! Take a break. Watch some ants crawl around a leaf and remember what it’s like to be curious about things. Never forget how important it is to never forget.
Movie stills taken via screen shot on Netflix