When you look at this picture, what do you see?
If your answer is a particularly lumpy hat, then you're probably an adult and—no offense—pretty unimaginative. But if you perceive within this nebulous blob an elephant in a boa constrictor, well then you're a person of "true understanding," according to the narrator of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 book The Little Prince, a beloved French fable pondering the nature of a child’s imagination and how it warps with age. The drawing is the personal Rorschach test of the book's narrator, an aviator who crash-lands in the Sahara, and also a fitting reflection of the spirit of his story, which is creative, abstract, and occasionally incomprehensible.
What would the aviator of Saint-Exupéry’s story think, then, if he saw the very Disney-looking international trailer for the upcoming film adaptation of The Little Prince? He would probably perceive a few more hats than elephants-in-boas. The video shows that the French production—arriving in their cinemas on October 7, 2015, U.S. release date still unknown—has favored the story’s commercial potential over its philosophical side. Saint-Exupéry’s fable is looking a little bit less obviously symbolic (as of yet, nary a talking rose, snake, or fox featured), a little bit more accessible.
In place of the WWII aviator who narrated the book, the film’s hero is a little girl in a headband, plagued by her math homework in the modern day. The core story of the book—which has the pilot wandering the desert for eight days with the Prince, basically hearing all about the ecosystem of his home asteroid and his love for a rose that grows there—is sent to her by an eccentric, lonely older neighbor. This new, modern spin emphasizes that these bits are magically realist—they are shot with what looks like computer-rendered Claymation—and develops a new emotional plot, which has a friendship unfolding between old man and young girl. Even without understanding the dialogue (it’s in French, look here for the translation), which talks about rediscovery and miracles and has a vaguely melancholy tone, things are looking Up.
But if Le Petit Prince has gone a bit Pixar, that’s nothing to get too upset over. Saint-Exupéry’s story already has a few abstract adaptations, the strangest being the 1974 musical version that cast Gene Wilder as the Fox and choreographer Bob Fosse as The Snake, tempting the Prince with perhaps the single creepiest animal-themed interpretive dance ever committed to film.
By contrast, this new version seeks to make the story less about children than a work that appeals to children. The new heroine may temper all of the metaphorical, semi-autobiographical references to Saint-Exupéry’s aviation experiences in the Sahara, which he wrote during a difficult and lonely exile in the U.S. (the story always sounded a bit like an old man on a soapbox, waxing poetic about what it was like to be young). In contrast, the movie could offer something the author and his proxy the aviator could have used during those dark days—a young companion with whom to share his story.