Whelmed. Overly.

August 23, 2016

Summer’s on its way out. Vacations are ending, store shelves are fully stocked with back-to-school merchandise and there’s a sort of wistful sleepiness in the air. For anyone hoping to squeeze the last drops of goodness out of summer and wrap themselves deeply in the magically realistic world of this twilight season, look no further than Netflix’s recent production of The Little Prince.

Happily, the movie also offers the perfect salve for what has proven to be yet another dismally underwhelming summer movie season. For those who might be unfamiliar with the story, it was originally written by French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and published in 1943. In a nutshell, it follows a Little Prince, who leaves his own small world and chronicles his journey as he travels from one planet to the next, describing the archetypal characters he meets along the way.

The Netflix version, directed by Mark Osborne, puts a different spin on the timeless classic. Osborne has created a narrative that relies on three distinctly different forms of animation to tell the full story.

There’s a more commonly used animation style, similar to what you might see in a Pixar or Disney film, which is used to render “the real world.” This first type of animation serves as the workhorse, doing most of the heavy lifting and introducing the viewer to the more nontraditional side of Osborne’s narrative. This newer side of the story is built around a little girl who is struggling to maintain her sense of wonder and innocence in a society that demands she cultivate a more “essential” sense of self.

The little girl forms an unlikely friendship with her unconventionally child-like kook of a neighbor, through whom she learns the story of the Little Prince. The Aviator (as he is referred to throughout the story) shares the parts of his story piecemeal on loose sheets of paper. This brings us to our second form of animation; the most supplemental of the three by far. A more traditional cell-style animation, it exists almost exclusively within the dog-eared pages of the Aviator’s journal and rarely occupies screen time for more than a few frames.

The third and most unique animation style is used to showcase the world of the Little Prince. A celebration of cut and torn paper, this technique offers up a visual collage that is rich with textures and beautiful transitions. When The Little Prince ultimately garners himself an Oscar nod (and likely win) it will have been this animation, along with the piercingly sincere score by Hans Zimmer, that will have done the most to deserve it.

In an industry that can oftentimes see studios settle for more middling types of animation simply because they’re more expected, it is incredibly refreshing to see an animated film that is decidedly and unabashedly unique. For a story focused on retaining the fleeting whimsy of childhood, I can’t think of anything more fitting.