Digital Streamside Report — The Little Prince

“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”

I’ll admit, I was surprised to hear of a High School senior class some years ago, which was planning to read a children’s book for their last seminar discussion. Granted, I could see some sort of artistic resonance in a group of young people, about to embark on the next stage towards adulthood, to spend time in reading a children’s book, but I did not really understand the significance in doing so.

Only upon actually getting around to reading this “children’s book” years later, did I finally realize two things:

  1. I had been incredibly deficient in my reading up to that point, and1
  2. The Little Prince was a supremely profound choice for a last-class reading, if not a perfect choice.

The various levels of complexity which underlie Antoine St. Saint-Exupéry’s surreal story were incredibly engaging to me on a first reading. If you have not read it for yourself, I would highly, highly recommend it, as a) it is short, b) it is likely to be found at Bookmans2, and c) it is a book which address the tensions between childhood and adulthood, with narrative lines which speak to and embrace readers of all ages, whether it is love and loss, the power of imagination, friendship, or the existential beauty which consists of a single rose.

When read through a Christological lense, The Little Prince also invokes strong Incarnational strains which rise to the forefront of the mind’s eye, in particular in regards to the titular character. This is not to say, of course, the only way of reading it...one could read just as a children’s story, which is fine...but I also like what Augustine had to say about the appropriation of what is good, for The Good, from wherever we find it.

Later on, I came to understand that one of the supposed inspirations for the character of the Little Prince himself was none other than a son of Charles De Koninck, the great 20th century follower of Thomas Aquinas, with whom St. Exupéry’s had stayed for a time during the Nazi occupation of France. This discovery made the book all the more personal to me, having had the great blessing to have been taught at Thomas Aquinas College by several gentlemen who were students of De Koninck’s at the University of Laval.

You can imagine, then, with these attachments, the skepticism which one might feel upon hearing that The Little Prince was being made into an animated feature-film. While the initial trailer for the film was promising, one could be rightly concerned that such a beloved book could be twisted by cultural iconoclasts, that it’s meaning and profundity would be lost or misappropriated towards vile ends, and that disappointment and sadness would rule the day.

I am happy admit that, upon watching The Little Prince after its release on Netflix, disappointment was very distant. Almost immediately, I was filled with a deep appreciation for the careful and thoughtful interpretation of director Mark Osbourne in bringing St. Exupéry’s work to life.

This appreciation for his devotion to the spirit of the original story was further enhanced when I later learned that Osbourne had previously assisted in producing a number of episodes of “Sponge-Bob Square Pants” — seriously, as one who was involved with a show labeled by some as contributing to the demise of Western Civilization, he could have really messed this up, big-time.3 But, after watching The Little Prince, I, for all my detestation of deficiently risible sea-sponges, am willing to let his involvement with “Sponge-Bob” slide by the wayside...which is no small thing. In fact, I would go so far that he made a stab in the defense of Western Civilization in directing The Little Prince.

Now, one of the clear challenges in making a feature-length film of The Little Prince is the fact that the source-material, if rendered simply in itself, would make for a fairly short movie. This might be why a previous cinematic version, in which the late Gene Wilder played the character of “The Fox”, was produced as a musical (I’m not kidding about the existence of this).

To get around this issue, Osbourne provides a story-within-a-story framework, in which a modern-day “Little Girl” discovers the narrative of The Little Prince, when she and her overbearing (but loving) single mother move to a suburb so as to be in a better location for getting into a high-powered prep-school. Turns out that their eccentric neighbor next door, who lives in the one ramshackle house on the block, is none other than “The Aviator”, voiced by Jeff Bridges,4 whose character also serves as the general narrator.

A series of mishaps and adventures subsequently ensue, in which the world of the original narrative is showcased in a series of flashbacks, and portrayed with an almost origami-like/paper-and-pencil animation, in contrast to the Pixar-esque rendering of The Little Girl’s present day setting. The juxtaposition of such visuals works quite well, and the imagery of both worlds is often breathtakingly beautiful.

Within both worlds, St. Exupéry’s themes are acted out in different ways, and even when those worlds begin to narratively coincide, the film elegantly blends both forms of animation. It is also at this point of blending at which Osbourne takes his greatest liberty, in extending the narrative-line of The Little Prince past the end of the source-material, while also giving his answer to the question posed at the end of the original story: “Where did the Little Prince go?”

If, at this point, you don’t find such notions of artistic license objectionable, and you are fan of The Little Prince or uninitiated, then go, fire up your Netflix account and watch it.

For those of you with children, and who are looking for something other than a bouncing sea sponge to entertain your brood, I think this is a great film, provided you are comfortable with the following elements from the plot:

  • The mother of The Little Girl is at first overly obsessed with planning out her child’s every day, to the minute. However, this is on account of the fact that..
  • ...single parenting is portrayed as being difficult, and the father is virtually absent from the film. The mother then, out of love, takes what extreme steps she deems necessary to ensure her daughter’s future safety, which causes its own problems...
  • ...though this too is positively resolved, in my opinion, by the film’s conclusion.

If you are a parent, and you are not sure if, after the cautionaries I’ve outlined above, that you can take my word for it, then please refer on your own time to the course of action mentioned in the prior paragraph. After all, not only can The Little Prince entertain 4 boys (proven) for close to two hours solid (quietest time in my house in recent history), but it also can serve as a great date-night movie (also proven) - I’m sure it would go well with a fine Beaujolais.

In the end, perhaps the best endorsement I can give for the film is that, while it does go beyond what St. Exupéry wrote, it does so with a strong storyline, and with fantastically beautiful visuals. But, above all, it stays true to the gem-like thoughts of the original work, and succeeds in intentionally conveying the profound notion from the book, so essential in our materialistic age, that “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

1 This is a fairly common occurrence for me, as upon reading a good book, I realize that there are related, worthy works which need to be read. A curse of sorts, at least it means I will never be bored (though my place of residence may eventually resemble a library).

2 I blame Hansonius for informing me of such a venue, which only further enabled my bibliophilic tendencies, for Bookmans provokes a near-occasion of that perennial existential question on payday: books, or food? (psst...nearest location — 19th Avenue and Northern).

3 When I told The Missus this fact, she inquired: “What, did he get tired of doing stupid stuff?”

4 Yep, the guy who played “The Dude” in “The Big Lebowski” and Rooster Cogburn in the remake of “True Grit” gets to voice “The Aviator”; it works.

Will Bertain