Mark Osborne uses words like “miracle” and “magic” to describe his long quest to create an animated film adaptation of “The Little Prince,” the much heralded book by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
Osborne made the movie without having financial backing from any major studio. Once he got started, he faced the challenge of finding the right way to adapt the book to satisfy purists while opening it up to a broader audience.
“I didn’t think there was any way to adapt the book because it’s so poetic,” Osborne says. “The themes are very ethereal.”
Then there was the first time he showed the movie to an audience. It was at the Cannes Film Festival with many of the Saint-Exupery family in attendance. Finally, and this is a big one, he had to deal with what at the time looked like a crushing decision by his distributor, Paramount Studios, to not release the film theatrically in March.
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But the miracles lined up for him. He came up with a way to adapt the book, got the money to make the movie through multiple sources, won over the writer’s family at the screening and finally got the film released, on Netflix.
Osborne’s adaptation tells the original story of the Little Prince (voiced by Riley Osborne) through a modern day setting. A Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy) gets distracted from her studies by her neighbor, the Aviator (Jeff Bridges), who is writing the story of a Little Prince who lives on a tiny planet. Later, the grown-up Prince is voiced by Kansas City’s Paul Rudd.
The director wanted to make a movie version of the book without having to stretch the original tale to fit a movie format.
“With the larger story around it, the book could stay safe at what it is and stay protected at the heart. Make it the beating heart of a larger story that is about the power of this book,” Osborne says.
Once he had his structure, Osborne was determined to use two distinct styles of animation to keep the parallel stories well defined. He uses traditional computer animation for the main story. Anything directly from the book is presented in a stop-motion animation style using clay and paper.
When Osborne was pitching the idea for the movie, he carried around what he called “a magic box.” It included character models and a copy of the book. The magic box helped him show naysayers how he was going to create his story.
Osborne’s early concerns for the film were based on his own personal connection to the book. When he was 20, his girlfriend, who is now his wife, gave him a copy of the book when he transferred to a school in California from New York.
“I was really scared about this journey we were going to make. She quoted the book, ‘It is only with the heart that one can see rightly what is essential and invisible to the eye.’ She told me that even if we are apart we will still be together,” Osborne says.
That quote was the first thing that bubbled up when Osborne was facing his fears of tackling the project.
His daughter was the inspiration for the Little Girl, and his family recorded early voice tracks for the animators before a celebrity was hired. All of the temporary recordings were replaced, except for the work by his son, Riley, who did voicing of the Little Prince. He never found a voice that sounded better for the role.
“And when the movie has been dubbed for other markets, they still use the Little Prince laugh my son did,” Osborne says.
The fact Netflix stepped up to distribute the movie let Osborne share something that means so much to him. He is happy the film is available to millions of viewers.
“We had our fair share of bumps through the production,” Osborne says. “To say this movie is a miracle is an understatement. It is like 19 miracles stacked on top of each other.”