The Little Prince

'The Little Prince' movie poster

Release: Friday, August 5, 2016 (Netflix)

[Netflix]

Written by: Irena Brignull; Bob Persichetti

Directed by: Mark Osborne

The Little Prince is a gem. It’s a crime it never received a theatrical release. It’s a heartwarming journey rivaling anything Pixar has created on an emotional and intellectual level, and perhaps it’s the complex, multi-layered animation that truly sets the film apart, interweaving crude stop-motion with crisp, computer-generated imagery to produce an aesthetic you’ll struggle to find elsewhere.

Kung Fu Panda director Mark Osborne’s enchanting tale is a reimagining of the 1943 French novella of the same name, penned by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a successful commercial pilot (and novelist, poet, aristocrat and journalist) prior to World War II. The man once traveled to American shores in an attempt to convince the government to bring the fight to Nazi Germany following his disenfranchisement from the French Air Force in the early 1940s. He spent a little over two years in the States writing what would later become three of his most popular works. He later would re-join the Force only to disappear mysteriously soon thereafter à la Amelia Earhart.

Saint-Exupéry’s experiences as an aviator factor into this modern interpretation of The Little Prince in curious ways. (It should be noted, however, that his original story was published before he enlisted.) Fantastical elements are of course front-and-center and the story is entrenched in the stresses of modern living, but under the surface lie untold mysteries and tales of bravery, heroism and self-discovery. Strong emotional hooks are drawn from an impressive, inspired voice cast and Osborne’s touch, though ultimately nothing unique, is just confident enough to steer the story in a direction that, come the end, very well may have you in tears. The good kind, of course.

We’re introduced to The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy, who thus far has Interstellar, The Conjuring and Ernest & Celestine on her résumé, and at the time of writing she’s yet to turn 16) who lives in a very grown-up world driven by rules, schedules and obedience. Her Mother (Rachel McAdams) wants her to attend the prestigious Academy so she can grow up and become an essential, contributing member of society. The initial interview does not go well as the panel, led by Paul Giamatti‘s intimidating and overly harsh instructor, springs an unexpected question upon her that causes her to panic. Mother has a Plan B: make her daughter cram so much studying into each and every day of her summer vacation she’ll be sure not to have any distractions (i.e. friends).

Mother draws up an impossibly elaborate Life Plan and constructs it so that each minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year is accounted for. Soon enough, The Little Girl rebels. She befriends their eccentric, hoarding and elderly neighbor, The Aviator (Jeff Bridges), who is introduced as the scourge of this SimCity-esque neighborhood — one comprised of identical blocky houses and roads filled with cars driving identical speeds and in organized right-angled patterns. Mother looks at the situation like so: “Just think about [his] house being the reason [ours] is available. This is the place where you’ll learn to grow up and become Essential.” (I paraphrase.)

The Aviator is a wonderful creation, and Bridges brings the character to life in ways that are difficult to fathom. Practically speaking, his performance is little more than a voice laid over/synced up with a cartoon character. It’s not the genuine article, and yet, he is mesmeric as he regales The Little Girl about his past experiences with an enigma he calls The Little Prince, whom he met after crashing his plane in the Sahara Desert many years ago. The Little Prince (voiced by the director’s son Riley) shows him a world where everything is possible, a reality that The Aviator has been trying for years to communicate to anyone willing to listen. Finally he has found someone who will, even if her intelligence means she’s skeptical about certain details.

The Little Prince is a space-traveling young lad who once lived on a tiny planetoid, a celestial object so small you could traverse on foot in a matter of minutes and whose existence is constantly being threatened by hungry tree roots eager to take over the entire planet. He left this world and a Rose he fell in love with (voiced by Marion Cotillard for some reason) in search of greater truths amongst the cosmos. In the present day, The Little Girl decides it is her responsibility to track down The Little Prince and prove to The Aviator that he still does exist, and that even though he has grown into a jaded, passive adult, he never abandoned the child within.

The Little Prince astounds on a visual level. It is an exercise in contrasts, the real world from which The Little Girl temporarily escapes suffocating with its seriousness and sterility, while the universe expands into this wondrous, strange space in which individual worlds are populated by simplistic, insulated communities comprised of childless, passionless adult drones. Scale is quirkily reduced to something almost tangible. We’re not talking interstellar travel here, more like a weekend road trip amongst the stars. You’ll find the stop-motion animation reserved for backstories concerning The Aviator’s relationship with The Little Prince while the rest operates in a pristine, colorful world that gives Disney a run for its money.

Much like a Roald Dahl creation, The Little Prince refuses to condescend to its pint-sized viewers. It strikes a delicate balance between entertaining youngsters while providing the more jaded a few different ways to look at the lives they’ve shaped for themselves. Occasionally the chronicle trips into the realm of the pretentious with a few overly-poetic spits of dialogue that attempt to spice up an already fairly advanced narrative. It doesn’t have to try so hard. The exploration of just what it was that caused the kid in us to go away is profound enough on its own.

The Little Prince

Recommendation: The Little Prince offers adventurous viewers something a little different. Generally speaking the story arc isn’t something you’ll be experiencing for the first time, but it’s the incredible nuance and the textures and the layers to the animation that make it one of the most original works this former animated-film-skeptic has seen all year. Stellar performances abound. There’s even a cute fox voiced by James Franco, a Benicio del Toro-sounding snake and Albert Brooks is along for the ride so the cast is reason enough to check it out. Also, stop-motion. Have I mentioned how awesome the technique is? Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. Available on Netflix.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 106 mins.

Quoted: “It is only with heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

In a World…

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Release: Friday, August 9, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

If ever you’ve wanted to learn more about the voices behind all those movie trailers you’ve seen, then look no further than In a World…, a glimpse into the industry of voice-overs that’s simultaneously humorous and heartfelt; awkwardly distant, yet fully immersive.

Though it features all fictionalized characters, the film tips its hat to real-life movie trailer voice legend Don LaFontaine, who’s seen in the opening title sequence (in clips of archived footage) doing a few interviews — openly expressing his joy over what it’s like having one of the most recognized voices in the world. This being released almost five years after his passing, it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider this film a tribute of sorts to the man behind the iconic voice. His signature phrase “In a world…” functions as an interesting title for director, writer and actress Lake Bell’s new film, as well as it serves as the motif. In the wake of LaFontaine’s death, much debate is fueled over whether that catchphrase should ever be uttered by another person; and if it is to be used again — who should be the next person to follow in his footsteps?

Lake Bell — as if writing and directing this wonderfully entertaining picture wasn’t enough — also stars as Carol Solomon, a young yet frustrated vocal coach who has yet to find her rhythm professionally. She’s first seen trying to make Eva Longoria effect a Cockney dialect for an (obviously staged) voiceover role, and this scene is every bit as humorous as it is intriguing. After her father — acclaimed movie trailer voice Sam Soto (Fred Melamed) — tells her he can no longer support her and that she needs to move out of his place, 31-year-old Carol finds her life at its most disoriented, forced to move in with her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) and her husband (Rob Corddry).

It’s difficult to determine in what capacity Bell excels the most. As an actress, her Carol is whimsical, a little more than socially awkward, and somewhat impulsive. But all of this translates into a rather enjoyable character to watch, especially as you may take note of her increasing confidence — both professionally and personally — as the film develops. As a writer, she might be even better. There is such a natural flow to the way each character acts and interacts with one another; the world she’s created is just charming. In particular, her Carol and the dorky sound engineer that she works with, Louis (Demetri Martin) have an on-again, off-again relationship that is bumbling yet heartwarming. When Louis brings Carol over one night, he insists the two sleep in separate rooms despite the obvious chemistry between them. Louis simply doesn’t want to make things more awkward than they already are; thanks to the strong script, he does. And then as a director. . . .perhaps this is Bell at her most ambitious and distinctive.

The film could have easily been dulled down by focusing on general industry trends, or by trying to make drama out of things that need no drama created for them. Much to her credit, Bell approaches an already interesting subject matter with a rarely-used angle. At the beginning of the 21st Century, the use of female voices for movie trailers was nonexistent, with the exception of the Gone in 60 Seconds trailer back in 2000. Indeed, her character’s own father, along with his equally misogynistic colleague and friend Gustav Warner (Ken Marino), demonstrate the general attitude held by males at the time — in particular, their feelings towards women attempting to earn the same status. Their conversations in the sauna are rather unsettling as they talk business. Men become cruel, uncivilized beasts before our very ears. And because LaFontaine’s line, “in a world…” is suddenly being reconsidered for posthumous use in trailers, fierce competition to become the next individual who gets to say these words is eminent. With an inventive twist, the race to become the number one movie trailer voice becomes even more heated as the identities of the competing voice talents slowly become revealed to each character.

Because the film features a cast playing individuals in an unusual and competitive career, Bell ingeniously decided to give all of her characters peculiarities to match. There’s not a single “normal” person to be found in this quirky world. Perhaps Corddry’s Moe is the closest to such a description (wow, that’s a change). The studio in which Carol works as a vocal coach is filled with weird characters — as previously mentioned, Louis is an odd one as Carol’s secret admirer; Nick Offerman makes a brief appearance as a studio manager (?) and well, yeah, you can just color your own imagination with that. . . and then there’s a wonderfully eccentric performance in Tig Notaro‘s Cher, who’s mainly there just for a few laughs. She may be limited but damn is she effective. Even the “villains” who happen to be in Sam Soto and Gustav Warner have peculiar mannerisms and character traits that make them convincingly nasty people. Considering all of this, the overarching film is quite a strange experience, if not delightfully strange.

Although Bell clearly enjoys delving into the mentality of men who are all of a sudden feeling threatened by an empowered woman in their field of expertise, one of the side effects of detailing characters this much becomes clear: the narrative does run away from her towards the end. A couple of romantic subplots veer from the very compelling narrative a few times, and while these are not entirely uncalled for, they become a bit distracting as more and more focus seems to be placed on the relationship aspects. Still, they serve to add a little bit more to the chaos of the lives behind the scenes, which I appreciated personally. I also understand where it detracted more for others and there certainly could have been some cleaning up on Aisle 7 in this department.

One of the larger ironies of this film is that when you go and check out trailers afterwards — specifically for more contemporary releases — you are going to notice a distinct lack of voice over work on the trailers you’re watching. Instead, these days, it’s all about snappier/fancier editing, increasing the frequency of taking scenes out of context for dramatic effect, and replacing what once were voiceovers with text/captions (most of which are some variant on ‘life is a journey’ — that kind of hokey B.S. most of us see right through). It’s fascinating listening to the conversation going on here, and this applies on a number of levels.

Virtually everyone on the planet is exposed to trailers and commercials, and this film provides a rare opportunity to go beyond that and get a glimpse of the dynamics of this particular aspect of the entertainment biz. Thank you, Lake Bell for providing that for us.

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3-5Recommendation: It could be easily labeled as a film for a very niched audience. Some might even call it a snooty film for just movie buffs. Forget all of that noise. This is a heartfelt character study as much as it is a spotlight on a rarely-studied industry (at least in terms of mainstream media coverage — when was the last time you saw a documentary on the current voices of TV/film advertisements/trailers?). It is a movie that is both socially and culturally relevant and while it may slide by under most people’s radars, it most certainly shouldn’t. I highly encourage anyone who sees this film on the listing at their local theaters to go check it out.

Rated: R

Running Time: 93 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com