behind the scenes

The Painstaking Process of Bringing The Little Prince to Life

The Little Prince premiering on Netflix on August 5, 2016. Photo: Netflix
The Little Prince and his treasured rose in a scene from the finished film.

When director Mark Osborne was approached to adapt The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 children’s-literature favorite, into an animated film, he balked. “Turning this precious book into a big movie would just break it,” says the two-time Oscar-nominated Osborne. “The Little Prince feels very lyrical, poetic. It’s not movie-shaped at all.” The much-beloved, humbly metaphysical story — about the title character’s quest to return home — is embedded with philosophy about love and loss and buoyed along by Saint-Exupéry’s whimsical illustrations. By focusing on the latter, Osborne found a way to preserve the spirit of the book: He’d use computer-generated animation to convey a larger, framing narrative about a lonely girl, then transition into stop-motion animation to tell the Little Prince’s story (which the girl, called only Little Girl, discovers thanks to an eccentric old neighbor, voiced by Jeff Bridges).

“When you’re reading the book, you’re told over and over again in the text, ‘These drawings aren’t very good,’ and you’re actually being tricked into imagining the reality Saint-Exupéry was trying to depict,” says Osborne. “There’s a charm to those illustrations, and we wanted our stop-motion animation to be charming like they are: handcrafted, obviously the work of artists.” Stop-motion production designer Alexander Juhasz, who helped create the creepy children’s book featured in the art-house horror film The Babadook, led a team of artists devoted to sculpting the tiny characters (all clad in hand-painted rice-paper costumes), always keeping Saint-Exupéry’s drawings close. In the captions to these photos, he explains how he blended his own vision of The Little Prince with Saint-Exupéry’s. “When you’re interpreting someone else’s designs into your own work,” Juhasz says, “you need to know, ‘This is home base.’ I want our film to feel like, ‘This is what Saint-Exupéry captured in his writing.’ ”

The Little Prince will be released August 5 on Netflix and in select theaters.

*This article appears in the July 25, 2016 issue of New York Magazine.

The Painstaking Creation of The Little Prince