US director’s ‘Little Prince’ gets French premiere at Cannes

23 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Boyhood becomes girlhood in The Little Prince at Cannes.

One advantage of animation is that you can record a whole new language dialogue track, and no one will know the difference. (It’s like the silent era, when switching out title cards meant it didn’t matter whether the film came from Berlin or Bognor.) So we have the new adaptation of the popular Saint-Exupéry children’s tale, simultaneously presented in two different cinemas at Cannes, in French and English, with entirely different voice casts involved. It was the English one for me, with Jeff Bridges and Rachel McAdams, rather than André Dussollier and Florence Foresti; however, with Kung Fu Panda’s Mark Osborne on board as director, the artistic balance is definitively tilted in the direction of the Anglo-American crowdpleaser. And when the movie in question happens to be an adaptation of one of the most beloved children’s novels of all time, the potential for disappointment looms especially large.

The starry-eyed tribute to imagination and childhood is a wonder and pleasure to behold, as an enthusiastic crowd in the Grand Théâtre Lumière did during Friday’s world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. But to the sure relief of armchair aviators everywhere, director Mark Osborne’s “The Little Prince” turns out to be a respectful, lovingly reimagined take on Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic 1943 tale, which adds all manner of narrative bells and whistles to the author’s slender, lyrical story of friendship between a pilot and a mysterious extraterrestrial voyager, but stays true to its timeless depiction of childhood wonderment at odds with grown-up disillusionment.

Human and space-alien characters, along with talking animals and flowers, all voiced by a bevy of Hollywood stars, are presented in a seamless blend of modern CG and traditional stop-motion animation by French and Canadian animators. Apart from rather obviously taking its cue from Up, the Pixar hit that also involved unconventional methods of air transportation, The Little Prince is a sort of process-movie: each time the next-door airman (for it is he) gives the girl a page from his notebook – complete with Saint-Exupéry’s own drawings – it reinforces some point about letting your childlike imagination run free, be true to yourself, anything essential is invisible to the eye, all that sort of thing. Osborne’s big stylistic move is to animate the “present” in big-eyed CG – very much in the contemporary manner – and then, when diving into the old man’s increasingly elaborate storytelling, to switch to a very beautiful rustling-paper stop motion technique. The male-oriented 1942 novella by French war pilot turned writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, which has sold more than 145 million copies worldwide, in more than 250 languages, has been expanded and given more of a female focus. From that, Saint-Exupery spun a fanciful, faintly ethereal fable about a downed airman who finds himself face-to-face with a curious, blond-haired young boy who claims to be the sole inhabitant of a distant asteroid (#B-612), and who regales the pilot with tales of the interplanetary travels that eventually brought him to earth.

It’s a very effective, and very easy on the eye, method of demarcating the two: the former is all muted monochrome, clean lines and razor-sharp focus, while the latter has a highly-coloured sketchiness and crinkle-edged texture that accurately distils the original’s design qualities. Those adventures consist largely of meetings with puffed-up, self-important adults who imagine themselves to be powerful despots but are, in fact, just orbiting the universe alone on their own similarly uninhabited rocks. But there are also touches of melancholy romance, in the form of the Prince’s codependent relationship with a very demanding rose (which sends him fleeing B-612 in the first place), and a darkly poetic ending that can be interpreted as either a salvation or a suicide.

The superstructure is complex enough in itself – with the girl scrapping with her mother and bonding with the old man as he attempts to get his plane off the ground – and binding it to Saint-Exupéry’s own multi-stranded storytelling, with star-collecting businessmen, spirit-guide foxes and desert hikes, is almost too intoxicating a brew. Seventy years later, the book’s influence can be seen in everything from “The English Patient” to “The Lego Movie.” The book was scarcely enough material for a feature film, which didn’t stop Hollywood from trying one in 1974 — an ill-advised live-action version, directed by “Singin’ in the Rain’s” Stanley Donen, that padded things out with a suite of unmemorable Lerner and Lowe songs, and one genuinely dazzling Bob Fosse dance routine. There are at least three false endings as Osborne looks to tie all the layers up in the final 20 minutes, so that when “FIN” drops finally into place, it’s something of a relief. Osborne and story chief Bob Persichetti worked with screenwriter Irena Brignull (The Boxtrolls) to introduce a female character called “The Little Girl,” voiced by Mackenzie Foy (Interstellar) as the main protagonist of the piece. For the new film, Osborne (“Kung Fu Panda”) and screenwriters Irena Brignull (“The Boxtrolls”) and Bob Persichetti have taken the generally more effective tack of nesting Saint-Exupery’s story within an elaborate framing device set in the kind of modular modern metropolis prophesied by Jacques Tati’s “Playtime,” full of technology and free of wonder.

She lives in a soulless and conformist French metropolis, one that could have been taken from a satire by Jacques Tati (there’s another tribute), along with her ambitious and controlling mother (Rachel McAdams), who wants her daughter to make a speedy transition to adulthood. “You’re going to make a wonderful grown-up,” she tells the young girl, who is resigned to having her youth slip away as quickly as her summer seems to be doing. A different life path emerges after The Little Girl and her mother move to a modern home that’s adjacent to the ramshackle abode of The Aviator (Jeff Bridges). Fans of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book and his original watercolour illustrations will applaud the care that has been taken to preserve the hand-drawn charm of the original work, which has been called the world’s most-read story and also the third-most translated one. These scenes are a joy to behold — a bliss-out of brightly colored paper and hand-molded clay that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the texturally varied and vibrant stop-motion work seen in Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. In lieu of traditional musical numbers, composers Hans Zimmer and Richard Harvey provide a suitably wispy, wistful underscore, interlaced with a few original ballads performed by French chanteuse Camille and several classic chansons francises from the immortal Charles Trenet. (Animated — France-Italy) A Paramount (in France)/Weinstein Co. (in U.S.)/Warner Bros. (in Germany/Japan) release of an On Animation Studios production in co-production with Orange Studio, LPPTV, M6 Films, with the participation of Canal Plus, M6, W9. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Dimitri Rassam, Aton Soumache, Alexis Vonarb.

Screenplay, Irena Brignull, Bob Persichetti, based on “Le Petit Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; head of story, Persichetti. (Color, widescreen); editors, Matthew Landon, Carole Kravetz; music, Hans Zimmer, Richard Harvey; production designers, Lou Romano, Celine Desrumaux; sound designer (Dolby Digital), Tim Nielsen; supervising sound editors, Nielsen, Christopher Barnett; re-recording mixers, Nielsen, Barnett; visual effects supervisor, Pascal Bertrand; character designer, Peter De Seve; co-character designer, Barthelemy Maunoury; CG character supervisor, Hidetaka Yosumi; CG animation supervisor, Jason Boose; CG lighting supervisor, Adel Abada; stop-motion creative director, Jamie Caliri; stop-motion production designer and character designer, Alex Juhasz; stop-motion lead animator, Anthony Scott; associate producers, Brice Garnie, Olivier Rakoto; casting, Sarah Finn. Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, James Franco, Marion Cotillard, Benicio Del Toro, Ricky Gervais, Bud Cort, Paul Giamatti, Riley Osborne, Albert Brooks, Mackenzie Foy. (English dialogue)

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