Matters of Consequence.
From the opening shot of The Little Prince, we see a world preoccupied with Matters of Consequence. We see a city from high in the air, looking for all the world like a microchip. As the camera closes in, we see ant-like cars scurrying through the streets, people hurrying from place to place. It’s a world of hard angles and gleaming gray, of cool lines and clinical beauty. If Siri made a city, it might look like this. It is a place of purpose, of busy-ness, of … consequence.
And one Little Girl fits right in.
For years, she and her mother have been focused on one overarching task: To gain entrance to the prestigious Werth Academie. It’s a most consequential school where future leaders are groomed for success and six-figure salaries, where childhood is set aside for Mandarin Chinese lessons, 14-part algebraic equations and regimented excellence. “What will you be when you grow up?” The school’s posters ask from the hallway walls. “Essential!” They answer.
But things go awry when the girl is interviewed by Werth’s gatekeepers. She answers the wrong question and faints dead away on the stage. No matter, her mother reassures her: They’ll simply buy a home in the Werth school district and thus slide through the admissions process through the back door. “You’re going to Werth Academie whether they want you or not!” her mother declares.
And so she will. Mom buys an uber-modern home at a rock-bottom price—the property value lowered, presumably, by the rickety Victorian monstrosity sitting on the lot next door.
With it being summer vacation, the little girl has nearly two months to get ready for Werth’s rigorous academic life: Her mother figures she can just about do it if she wastes not an instant. She sets up a calendar divvied by the minute: Exercise; algebra; microbiology … it’s all there. And as long as the Little Girl can go with a little less sleep, everything should be fine. Just fine.
An old man lives in that Victorian pile of rubble next door—an aviator, they say. At least he has a rusty old plane in his back yard that he keeps tinkering with, trying to get it flying again.
The coot has no regard for the girl’s schedule, no understanding of Matters of Consequence. When he tries to start his plane, the propeller flies right through her wall, throwing off her first-day regimen something awful. Then, while she’s trying to study some algebrochemical whatnot, he sends a paper airplane right through her window. The nerve.
She shuts the window and closes the blinds … but she picks up the airplane and sees that there are words on it. And drawings. Something about a pilot stranded in the desert. And a sheep. And a little prince.
Clearly, this is not a Matter of Consequence. It is, in fact, another waste of time.
But the Little Girl picks up the page anyway. And she begins to read.
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly,” we’re told. And indeed, The Little Prince is a story that values heart over head. It is concerned with Matters of Consequence, too—concerned that we can be too preoccupied with such matters, that we can lose our sense of joy and mystery. The lessons here aren’t always conveyed in the healthiest of ways, but it’s a good reminder of many salient truths that we sometimes forget.
It reminds us that the world’s values don’t necessarily reflect the true worth of something.
It reminds us that there’s a certain beauty in “waste”—that is, time “wasted” on enjoying a good book, having an afternoon picnic or spending time with a friend.
It reminds us that childhood—as wasteful a time as we have in life—is precious. Indeed, it is invaluable. But it insists that we should never strive to simply be children: “Growing up is not the problem,” the Aviator tells us. “Forgetting is.”
It suggests that the things most precious to us aren’t made so because of a monetary value, but rather through something more intangible … the time we spend, the work we put into something, the affection we develop. When the Little Prince befriends a fox, for instance, it’s their familiarity and friendship that binds them together. It’s not that the fox is a remarkable fox … but the time and effort that the Little Prince and Fox put into their relationship make it remarkable.
The Little Girl and the Aviator put a lot of time into their own friendship. For the girl, that friendship opens up new vistas of poetry and imagination that she never knew existed. The Aviator, who knows he doesn’t have much time left on earth, gets to tell his story—a story he believes is worth telling. And together, they help rescue a character from a life of inconsequential Consequence.
And let’s not forget the mother, who’s initially so frustrated and angry that the Aviator has spoiled her precious child’s plan. She comes to understand that there should be more to childhood, and indeed more to life, than plotting out one’s time to be most efficient and successful. And eventually, she thanks the Aviator for helping her daughter … and helping her see that basic truth.
The book The Little Prince has sometimes been used to illustrate Christian themes. And while there’s no explicit reference to a particular faith in the movie, you can almost draw dotted lines from some of the positives listed above to well-known Bible verses. Compared to the lyrical prose of author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, however, the spiritual parallels feel a bit clumsier here.
There’s a great deal of talk that real truth goes beyond what we can see or touch or test. This is frustrating for the Little Girl when she struggles with the concept of death. But the Aviator and the Little Prince himself insist that our bodies are simply husks, and at death (or apparent death) they’re emptied of everything that’s important. And when the Little Girl insists that there’s no way of knowing if that’s true—of knowing that people live on somewhere else when their bodies die—the Aviator says, simply, “I choose to believe …”
The Aviator tells the Little Girl that The Little Prince is out there somewhere, “helping us.” And The Little Prince himself, when a strange seed lands on the tiny planet on which he lives, says that he knows the resulting plant “will be miraculous.”
The Little Girl falls out of a tree and skins her hands. “I’m gonna have to amputate,” the Aviator jokes. A plane propeller flies just feet from where the Little Girl is standing, smashing into her house and creating a huge crater. In what appears to be a dream or imagined sequence, someone gets thwacked on the head with a bowling ball, while others are pinched and prodded by machinery. Someone falls from a wall.
In the Aviator’s story, his life is in some peril in the middle of the desert.
[Spoiler Warning] Those familiar with the book The Little Prince know that the titular character apparently “dies” in the end, struck and poisoned by a snake in the desert. He allows himself to be struck willingly: He can’t get back to his home planet carrying such a heavy body, he says—but it might smack some of suicide. The Aviator says that it’s coming close to time for him to join the Little Prince, and indeed he is eventually rushed to the hospital. The movie suggests that he, too, dies, though the Little Girl can hear both he and the Prince laughing when she looks at the stars.
Outside one use of the word “Jeez,” the film is profanity free.
The camera zooms by one of the planetoids near the Little Prince’s home asteroid—a planet littered with bottles. Readers of the book will recognize it as the Tippler’s planet.
Though the lessons taught by the Aviator—and by extension, the movie—have merit, they manifest themselves at times in unfortunate ways. And to learn them, the Little Girl winds up lying and disobeying her mother—sneaking off regularly to the Aviator’s house when her mom thinks she’s at home, studying. The fact that her mother really should lighten up a little is beside the point here: Kids—much to the chagrin of kids everywhere—don’t get to make that call. It culminates, apparently, in the Little Girl sneaking out of the house and trying to shimmy down a drain pipe in an effort to visit the Aviator in the hospital.
One day when the Little Girl is feeling a bit down, the Aviator tries to cheer her up by driving her to a local restaurant where she can get pancakes for her birthday. Never mind that the Aviator doesn’t have a driver’s license. Never mind that it’s not the Little Girl’s birthday. “They don’t know that!” he happily exclaims.
The book is always better than the movie.
So we book-lovers like to say, anyway, and in this case I think it’s true. Admittedly, it would be nigh impossible to equal Saint-Exupéry’s funny, lyrical and deeply poignant book. A little of his raw, honest wistfulness is missing here. And in wrapping Exupéry’s story inside another, more modern tale, the filmmakers unfortunately introduce moments of childish disobedience and rebellion.
But just because the movie isn’t quite as good as the book, that doesn’t make it a bad movie.
The book is weird—a quirky, personal statement by the author, not a book that probably anyone would’ve pegged as a best-seller. The movie shares that off-kilter sensibility. It’s a story within a story with yet a third story tacked on. It’s so quirky, in fact, that its intended distributor (Paramount Pictures) apparently opted to drop the film from theatrical release. Never mind that it has a 95% “freshness” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, or that it pulled in nearly $100 million from the countries in which it was released. It was only Netflix’s intervention—pushing the film to just a handful of theaters Aug. 5 alongside a release on its ubiquitous streaming service—that saved the film from American obscurity.
When asked about the film’s distribution woes, director Mark Osborne simply said, “Grown-ups are very, very odd,” a line from both the book and movie.
More important than all of that, though, is the fact that those who do find this little animated film will discover a story that encourages its viewers to take a flight of fancy. It asks us to dream a little with it. To imagine. Not everything makes sense in its world, and I think that’s by design. This is a movie that dares dip into the mind of childhood, where fantasy and reality may sometimes blur a bit.
And it reminds us of an essential truth: What is most important is invisible. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.