The Little Prince was published over seventy years ago in 1943. It has since been cherished by generations of kids and adults all over the world. Mark Osborne took on the brave task of adapting the much-loved classic and turning it into an animation feature.
We each have our stories of first reading The Little Prince. Osborne was introduced to it in the ’90s. “I was studying art in Brooklyn when my girlfriend gave me a copy,” he recalls. That girl would later become his wife, which may add to the special bond he feels for the novel. But how does one approach the formidable challenge of adapting a story that means so much to so many? Osborne says he found a way in by adding another layer — to show how someone’s life is affected by the book, as his was. Rather than using pure computer imagery, Osborne worked with Jamie Caliri, an artist whose expertise in stop-motion animation helped devise a blend of two techniques to create a rare visual alchemy.
Read as Osborne takes us behind the creative magic of Netflix’s The Little Prince
Awards Daily: It’s definitely a story that works on so many levels whether you’re an adult, teenager, or child, but it’s such a giant to take on.
Mark Osborne: Right. For me, it’s all that what you’re describing. We can read it at different stages of our lives and have a totally different experience with it. There are so many interpretations, and there are so many ways a book can affect a person. I really felt that any attempt to try to make a definitive version would fail, and that’s why I said no at first.
The book becomes a part of your life, but that’s when it struck me, that the way to approach it would be to tell a story about somebody’s life being affected by the book, and then it becomes an echo or mirror of what we experience when the book is accessed. The most common thing is we are all affected by it in different ways, and that is the magic of the book, is that it causes us to talk about it.
If you know someone loves the book, you will talk about your interpretation, you’ll be interested in their interpretation and be able to have a dialogue about it. That’s what I wanted the movie to be, I wanted the movie to be a dialogue about the book.
MO: We were really building a specific team. We were recruiting every single person on the film, everyone was cast because of either a strong connection to the book or a strong point of view about the project. I actually brought on some people who didn’t have any connection with the book, and they provided very necessary objectivity. It was really important for us. At times, I said we were building an army to protect the book.As much as we were trying to communicate the book to people and bring the book to new audiences and the story to new eyes and ears, first and foremost we had to protect it for those who loved it.
What I did was, I couldn’t say I was going to go out and make a movie. Anyone who knew the book would be incredibly suspicious. I had to convince them that what we were doing was really going to be taking care of the book, so I had a very elaborate pitch that was housed in this magic suitcase. It was this vessel that brought the spirit of what we were trying to do, and the ambition of what we were trying to do, and the creativity, and the care. It was filled with the passion that we had for the project, and it was a way to communicate not only the story that we wanted to tell to support the book but how we were going to do it. The fact that we were going to use different animation techniques. I actually had things inside the suitcase that would show you the different techniques and give you a better understanding of what we were endeavoring to do.
Most often, I was going all out and I’d spend 45 minutes to an hour helping everybody understand what it was that I saw in the project, and my passion for the project. Every time someone came to the project, it was a way to reinvigorate myself and others in what we were trying to do. I found it to be quite amazing, and it forced me to talk about what was important about the book, about the movie, and it gave me not only a chance to convince someone to come and help, because that’s how the pitch would end, “We need to come and be a part of this mission,” but it helped me focus the attention.
When you’re making an animated movie, you’re focusing on such details, so to talk about the big picture and the soul of the project, and the major themes, it was always refreshing and inspiring to hear it.
AD: I love that story. You use both computer animation and stop-motion, how did you decide on that?
MO: It was one of the high concepts early on that I thought was necessary to protect the book. I was being asked to make it like a Pixar movie and use computer animation, but I came back and I was bold in my approach with the producers, and I said, “I think we can use computer animation for a lot of things, but in order to portray the book properly, I want to use stop-motion.” They were very excited about that creative idea, and that was notion for quite a while until Jamie Caliri brought his own look and feel to it, and made it become a reality that we could portray the poetry of the book. Stop-motion is such a handmade technique and it has such a special and magical feeling to it, that even if you don’t understand how it’s being made, you understand what you’re looking at is real. That was something I felt was needed to help express the imagination of the little girl and how she was imagining this story, and building everything out of her mind’s eye out of paper, and that was an incredible thing that Jamie and his team could do it.
AD: I love stop motion and once you learn how it works and what goes into it, you will always appreciate it. It’s not about the computer anymore.
MO: It’s all artists. and I’m fascinated by all of it. Even with computer animation, the computer becomes a tool but there’s something about stop-motion when you’re seeing it happen in front of your eyes. I love what you said about the process. I’ve made films with the process, I’m still in awe, and it still feels like magic to me. There’s such a beauty to it, and when it’s done well, there’s such an incredible quality that it messes with your brain in such a beautiful way.
When you look at it, you know it’s real, and it’s moving. I love the movement of his scarf in stop motion, it’s one of the most beautiful things. I love whenever people talk about it with me, they assume there is something there that they don’t understand about how that comes together. It’s really the artist’s hands moving it. It’s so elegant, so beautiful and so subtle. I love it.
AD: We’ve got to talk about Hans Zimmer and the score. What did you talk about?
MO: I went to Hans because I believed he could solve the riddle. This movie was a riddle on many many levels. How do we best portray the book? How do we best pay tribute to the book? I told Hans that I didn’t know how this movie needs to sound in order to express the ideas that are there in the book. Hans knew the book so well that the first thing he said was, “What are you doing to my book?” [laughs] That’s when I knew he was the right man for the job. I also knew I was in deep trouble and I had to sell it. I ended up doing the magic suitcase pitch.
Hans was incredible and came back with really strong ideas. He wanted it to sound like no other movie, and he wanted it to sound very French. He wanted to create a whole universe. The book creates a universe, and he wanted the music and the songs and everything in the movie to sound just like its own universe. He wanted that French sound, and that was his genius idea. He wanted to work with Richard Harvey and said Richard could do that sound. He also wanted to use Camille, the French singer. He wanted to bring her into the equation as an artist and songwriter and a lyricist, also as a voice instrument. She actually became part of the orchestra. For me, it blew my mind when I heard what they were playing around with. In my mind, he was using Camille’s voice to express the soul of the book, and the childhood of the little girl that was emerging, and growing. Hans just had such strong, powerful ideas. He is truly a genius and is amazing at putting the right people together to accomplish his musical goals. I was in awe to be able to see him work and collaborate. It had me in tears constantly.
AD: What is it you love about animation?
MO: It’s the most expressive filmmaking medium. I love the unlimited possibilities. We’re seeing a lot of unlimited expressions when it comes to film making. Animation to me has a level of expressiveness that is unending. I love that it can connect. It works the same way that the book works. The reason I fell in love with animation is that I do believe it affects you by bringing you back to your own childhood, a time when your imagination is more unbridled. That’s why it’s amazing that there are all these films being made in animation for all ages because it can bring grown-ups back to their own childhood in a powerful way.
That’s the miracle of the book, it brings you back to your own childhood and helps you think like a child again, and that’s the magic of animation. It can trick you and magically transform you back to a time when you believe anything.
When I was a kid, I was watching Star Wars and believing everything I was seeing, and wanted to be a space pilot, and that magic is real.