If Peter Pan captivates kids with its defiance in the face of growing up, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince captivates those of us who are older because it's about growing up as tragedy. How do you adapt such a book into an expensive animated film in our day and age, and how do you make it appeal to kids? Mark Osborne's The Little Prince, a French production being released here in an English-dubbed version, tackles that challenge by turning the book into an object in its own story. It works: The film balances fun and melancholy.
It begins much the same way the book does, with the voice of the Aviator (in this version, he has the soothingly gruff tones of Jeff Bridges) recounting his childhood attempts to draw a boa constrictor swallowing an elephant, and how the grown-ups' unimpressed opinions of his work led him to forget all about being a child. But then we find ourselves in what seems to be the present day, following the story of a girl (voiced by Mackenzie Foy) whose mother (Rachel McAdams) moves her to a suburb in order to get into the prestigious school nearby.
Meanwhile, the animation intercuts between the CGI so popular today for the sequences set in the present to a stop-motion style that makes the figures look like papier-mâché for the Aviator's flashbacks. The latter proves a nice analogue for Saint-Exupéry's watercolors, with their rough, dashed-off simplicity. But you can't close out a modern-day kids' movie the way Saint-Exupéry ended his book; you'd have a revolt. So, the film explores the further adventures of our young heroine -- will she find the prince? You have one guess.