In the dedication of his immensely beloved 1943 novella, “The Little Prince,” author and aristocrat (and aviator) Antoine de Saint-Exupéry made a passing remark that succinctly captured the soul of his story: “All grown-ups were children first (but few of them remember it).” While the unique locations and landscapes of Saint Exupéry’s tale might seem to resist adaptation — this is, after all, a narrative that splits its time between the Sahara Desert and a galaxy of tiny asteroids suspended in the stars — there’s a good reason why it’s been reimagined as everything from an opera, to a ballet, a stage play, an anime, a pop-up book, a graphic novel, a television series and a rather terrible live-action film by “Singin’ in the Rain” director Stanley Donen.
Despite a multitude of logistical hurdles, the fundamental essence of “The Little Prince” is so pure that the narrative has proven capable of surviving any kind of transformation so long as that kernel of truth remains intact.
Even at its wildest moments, even when the movie flies so far off the reservation that it seems to have more in common with “Super Mario Galaxy” than it does a landmark of children’s literature, “The Little Prince” never loses sight of Saint-Exupéry’s most urgent message: “Growing up isn’t the problem, forgetting is.” The film begins almost identically to the novella, as a wizened old narrator (voiced by Jeff Bridges, natch) reflects on his peculiar childhood drawings, calling special attention to the literal-minded adults who rejected his imagination.
“The Little Prince” is abstract enough as it is, and it can be hard to piece together when you’re forced to drop the thread every few minutes.
“The Little Prince” is probably too opaque for children, and it’s definitely too strained for adults, but it’s still refreshing to see a movie that flies with the untamed, sometimes illogical creative impulses of its target audiences.