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Director: Mark Osborne
Release Date: May 22, 2015
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s ‘Le petit prince’ (The Little Prince) is arguably France’s most beloved children’s book, so it’s no surprise that it would be made into a film someday. Surprisingly, it was the American filmmaker Mark Osborne (co-director of ‘Kung Fu Panda’) to take up the glove. His script, however, is entirely original, and builds around the classic booklet, and is not a direct interpretation of it.

Parts of the original story are still present in the final film, and these fragments without doubt form the visual highlights of the entire movie: these passages are done in a very charming stop-motion style, convincingly capturing Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s illustration style. However, the story of the little prince is interwoven with Osborne’s framing story, and in itself quite hard to follow, especially if you have not read the book yourself. In fact, the surrounding story is more entertaining than these excerpts from the book. Even worse, it takes 17 minutes before this story starts, and half way the movie the contents of Saint-Exupéry’s book are finished, leaving a staggering 49 minutes of original material still to come.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s little book deals with what it means to grow up, and with loss, and Osborne’s surrounding story tries to expand on that idea. This story arc is told in computer animation, and set in a caricature of our world, in which ca. everything is square, including the trees. The opening shots of this world, a bird-eyed view of the city, which looks like a print board in its extreme regularity, form a great introduction to the story. In this world every citizen thrives to be essential, including the nameless little girl, who stars this film, and her mother. For example, the Werth Academy, the school the little girl aspires to attend is covered with posters stating ‘What do you want to be when you grow up? Essential’.

As the girl’s first attempt to attend this school misfires, the mother conceives a new plan that includes moving into a proper neighborhood (one of those ultra-square blocks) and a whole vacation period of intense study for the little girl, laid out in a depressingly detailed planning board. But then it appears their house neighbor is the only oddball in this conformist world: an old man, who lives in an old, cranky house, and whose life is devoted to fantasy and child’s play.
It’s this old man who tells the little girl about the little prince (in fact he’s the pilot from the story, ignoring the fact that the real pilot, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry himself, died prematurely in a plane crash). Thus the old man draws the little girl into his magical world, allowing her to be a child again, instead of a miniature version of an adult.

Now, this is all very well, and the film’s messages that it’s important to recognize what’s important in life (no, it’s not money), and to accept that to love means to lose, is sympathetic, but this, alas, does not make ‘The Little Prince’ a good movie.

As said, the storytelling is erratic, with the passages of ‘The Little Prince’ sensu stricto being dispersed too fragmentary to entertain themselves, and the film’s messages are stated way too clearly, making the film heavy-handed. Moreover, after the story is finished the film devotes much screen time to a very long dream sequence in which the little girl rediscovers the little prince in adult form on a bureaucratic little planet. At this point the film lost me completely, for nothing in this sequence has a grain of the little book’s original charm. Instead, it only seems to destroy it. This is not a very respectful way to treat the original material.

But even without the dream sequence the film is overlong. It plods on with a frustratingly relaxed speed, and knows no surprises. Even then, the final roundup feels rushed, too open, and unconvincing. After all, the little girl herself may have changed, but the rest of the world is the same dull square conformist place it had been before…

The computer animation, done in Canada, is fair to excellent, and the rendering is okay, if not living up to contemporary American standards. I particularly enjoyed the animation of the stuffed fox. As said, the world building is excellent in this film, with its over-the-top squareness. The human designs, on the other hand, are pretty generic, and betray little originality. In fact, the beautiful passages of stop-motion based on De Saint-Exupéry’s drawing style make one regret that the film makers didn’t dare to make the whole film in this much more daring and more interesting visual style. The soundtrack is notable for some period songs, like ‘Boum!’ (1938) by Charles Trenet, and a lovely new song by French singer Camille called ‘Suis-moi’ (Follow Me).

In all, ‘The Little Prince’ is a charming film with some sympathetic messages, but it’s also highly uneven and overlong and could have done with some severe editing and more daring choices. Moreover, one can ask whether this film does the original book the justice it deserves. I, at least, would have preferred a short based on the scenes from the book itself, and done solely in stop-motion, for, without doubt these images are the most gorgeous of the entire film.

Watch the trailer for ‘The Little Prince’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Little Prince’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Bruno Bozzetto
Release Date: 1983
Rating: ★★
Review:

Sigmund © Bruno Bozzetto‘Sigmund’ is a very short cartoon, commissioned for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

The cartoon consists of one scene in a blue room in which a bespectacled little boy imagines himself as the sport stars he watches on television. The little boy’s imagination is shown by metamorphosis: we watch him change into the sport stars, growing with every metamorphosis.

‘Sigmund’ is a sweet short, but neither memorable, funny or one of Bozzetto’s best.

Watch ‘Sigmund’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Bruno Bozzetto
Release Date: October 31, 1968
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Vip mio fratello superuomo © Bruno Bozzetto

‘Vip mio fratello superuomo’* is Bozzetto’s second feature, and it a great improvement on his first (‘West and Soda‘ from 1965).

The designs are bolder, the pace is higher, the timing sharper, and the story more original. The film starts rightaway with a hilarious history of the VIP superheroes through time. It then introduces our heroes, the superhero SuperVIP and his weak little bespectacled brother, MiniVIP. They end upon an island where a super-villain plans to turn mankind into brainless consumers.

The result is a very nonsensical superhero story, told to a great effect, with the minimum of means and very limited animation.  It also shows Bozzetto’s aversion against consumerism, a theme he would expand upon in his masterpiece ‘Allegro non troppo’ (1976). Unlike that latter feature, ‘Vip mio fratello superuomo’ remains virtually unknown. This is a pity, for this funny film deserves a wider audience.

Watch and excerpt from ‘Vip mio fratello superuomo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

* also known as ‘My Brother Superman’

Director: Bruno Bozzetto
Release Date: 1967
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Una vita in scatola © Bruno BozzettoThe title of this cartoon can be translated as ‘life in a tin can’ and this is an apt title.

In this cartoon Bozzetto reduces a man’s whole life to several minutes. The main character’s life takes place in and between depressingly tall grey buildings. He is only allowed brief episodes of sheer joy: during is boyhood, when he falls in love, and when he becomes a father. These short episodes are depicted by colorful pictures of nature, accompanied by lyric music.

‘Una vita in scatola’ must be Bozzetto’s most perfectly timed cartoon, and it is his first real masterpiece.

Watch ‘Una vita in scatola’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Osvaldo Cavandoli
Release Date:
 1991
Stars:
 La Linea
Rating:
 ★★
Review:

Trazom, A.W. © Oscar CavandoliTrazom, A.W. Is W.A. Mozart spelled backwards and it’s Cavandoli’s hommage to the composer.

We watch La Linea dressed like an 18th century composer playing Mozart’s K545 sonata on the grand piano. Meanwhile he encounters several animals and people.

Unfortunately, the cartoon is slow, repetitive and rather unfunny. La Linea’s irresistible voice is hardly heard and this cartoon lacks the brazen humor of the earlier entries. And it completely pales when compared to classic piano concerto cartoons like ‘Rhapsody Rabbit‘ (1946) or ‘The Cat Concerto‘ (1947).

‘Trazom, A.W.’ is available on the DVD ‘La Linea 3’

Director: Osvaldo Cavandoli
Release Date:
 1974
Stars:
 La Linea
Rating:
 ★★★★
Review:

La Linea episode 1 © Osvaldo CavandoliLa Linea is an Italian television series, which takes graphic design, introduced by UPA to the animated screen, to the max.

The first of all La Linea shorts defines the complete series: it consists of numerous unrelated gags around the jabbering little man Linea, who lives in a 2-dimensional world, consisting of only one white line, of which he is part.

This cheerful, but temperamental guy has some characteristics that return in every single episode: First, he talks an Italian-sounding sort of gibberish, provided by voice actor Carlo Bonomi. Second, he always walks to the left of the screen. Third, he always encounters at least one interruption of the line during his walk. Fourth, he frequently argues with his off-screen creator, of whom we only see his hand drawing things for the little guy. And Fifth, our hero has also has an intoxicating laugh, which is heard at least once.

All designs are extremely stylized, yet perfectly recognizable, and beautifully animated. The backgrounds are monochromic, changing from green to red to blue etc. All these elements make this series such a classic, even though most of the episodes are completely plotless, and only last about 2 minutes.

In this particular episode La Linea encounters a turtle, a television set, a tap and a woman. He plays golf and takes a rollercoaster ride. It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s fun. Franco Godi’s music in this particular cartoon is more present than in the following ones, using a tune with voices instead of the instrumental background music of later cartoons.

Watch ‘La Linea episode 1’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘La Linea episode 1’ is available on the DVD ‘La Linea 1’

Director: Bruno Bozzetto
Release Date: October 1, 1965
Rating: ★★★
Review:

West And Soda © Bruno Bozzetto‘West And Soda’ has a classic Western story: an evil villain is after the land owned by the lovely Clementine. Luckily she is rescued by our cool hero, Johnny, who doesn’t talk much, but who can shoot!

‘West and Soda’ is Bruno Bozzetto’s first feature film and unfortunately, it shows. The Italian animator is at his best in short, well-timed pantomime gags, and he clearly has difficulties with this longer medium. Neither the animation nor the designs are particularly appealing, and the feature suffers a little from its length. Generously mocking almost every aspect of the classic western, ‘West and Soda’ is as silly as it is predictable. Luckily there are many throwaway gags to keep the viewer laughing from time to time.

However, Bozzetto’s comic genius really shines through in two offbeat scenes, in which Bozzetto does what he does best: like his funny short ‘I Due Castelli’ from 1963, these two scenes use a fixed long distance perspective, pantomimed action and a perfect timing, with hilarious results. The first of these two scenes shows us several failing attacks of ferocious ants on Johnny, who is buried up to his head in the desert. The second depicts the villain’s attempts to drop a huge rock on our hero.

Watch the ant scene from ‘West And Soda’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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