Dir. Mark Osborne. Fr. 2015. 106mins

little prince 6

A paean to the importance of retaining one’s childlike enthusiasm, the animated The Little Prince is itself a charmingly innocent film, lacking some of the storytelling and design sophistication of its Pixar and Dreamworks competitors but nonetheless delivering a sweet, likeable tale. Taking Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beloved book as its jumping-off point, this heartfelt bauble about a young girl facing the pressures of adulthood is constantly enlivened by its beautiful images, even if one itches for a narrative that’s a little less rudimentary.

Screening out of competition in Cannes, The Little Prince will open in France on July 29 through Paramount, which will also be handling the film for the States. Beyond audience awareness of the book, the movie also benefits from an impressive voice cast, including Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, Marion Cotillard and James Franco. The Little Prince lacks the sort of blockbuster gusto that boosts the genre’s heavy-hitters, but there’s enough action and humour to guarantee strong returns.

Mackenzie Foy voices the lead role, that of a young girl whose type-A mother (McAdams) has scheduled every single second of her daughter’s summer with studying so that she can get into a prestigious private school. But the driven girl starts to rethink her priorities after meeting her neighbour, a kooky former aviator (Bridges), who, it turns out, is the same man who narrated Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, which in the world of this film is an unknown book. The movie splits its time between the aviator telling the girl about his encounter with the Little Prince and the girl’s struggles to resist her mother’s tyrannical reign.

The Little Prince is directed by Mark Osborne, who co-directed the commercially and creatively successful Kung Fu Panda, which, like his new film, focuses on family and growing up. The animation may not have the depth of a Pixar offering, but its split between stop-motion (for the Little Prince’s story) and traditional design work (for the girl’s story) is a consistent pleasure. Add to that a score by Hans Zimmer and Richard Harvey that emphasises the film’s big emotions, and it’s clear that The Little Prince wants to be an unabashed, fun-for-all-ages delight.

The main downside is that Osborne and screenwriters Irena Brignull and Bob Persichetti haven’t come up with a contemporary storyline that’s as endearing or mythic as Saint-Exupéry’s classic tale. From the first moment the young girl meets the weirdo aviator, there’s little doubt that he’ll get her to shake off her rush to become an adult, encouraging her to dream instead. This is a noble sentiment, of course, but The Little Prince tends to drive that message into the ground, leading one to assume that the film is geared to younger viewers who don’t do well with nuance.

Beyond the platitudes, though, The Little Prince also stumbles a bit as the girl goes on a quest to help the aviator, which leads her to uncover the fact that the Little Prince now lives in our world, a mild surprise that the filmmakers don’t milk for all it is worth. The chases and spills that ensue are all handled satisfactorily, but this film is a case where the loving attention given to the animation and tone easily outstrips the care that’s gone into the storytelling.

Production company: On Animation Studios

International sales: Wild Bunch, obarbier@wildbunch.eu

Producers: Dimitri Rassam, Aton Soumache, Alexis Vonarb

Screenplay: Irena Brignull, Bob Persichetti (based on Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

Editors: Matt Landon, Carole Kravetz

Production design: Lou Romano, Céline Desrumaux

Music: Hans Zimmer & Richard Harvey

Main voice cast: Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, Marion Cotillard, James Franco, Benicio del Toro, Ricky Gervais, Bud Cort, Paul Giamatti, Riley Osborne, Albert Brooks, Mackenzie Foy