Films get dumped by studios all the time, but it’s typically a process that takes place long before the general public knows about it. Something might get picked up at a fest, and then the distributor has buyer’s remorse, sending it down the line to another company (something similar just happened to “The Lobster,” which went from Alchemy to A24, and had its release delayed two months). A film might be developed at one company, but then let go to be picked up by another.
It’s incredibly rare for a high-profile, award-winning film to be dumped by its distributor less than two weeks before its release. Even as the official website still said March 18th on it, Paramount's “The Little Prince” was nowhere to be seen. No commercials, no previews, no press screenings. Nada. And then the news came down that it was officially gone, that Paramount got cold feet after the mediocre grosses for “Anomalisa,” another ambitious piece of animation more likely to appeal to the arthouse crowd than a multiplex one. Still, Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s film made $3.5 million domestically, which seems to this writer to be in keeping with its style. One has to believe that an advertising pitch for “The Little Prince” could have produced at least as much in receipts, likely much more. Now that I’ve leafed through “The Little Prince: The Art of the Movie,” still released by Titan Books despite the theatrical delay, I’m further convinced that Paramount made a gigantic mistake letting it go, and that it would be wise for its new distributor, Netflix, to make it available ASAP.
There are about a dozen coffee table “Art of the Movie” books released every year, often for the biggest blockbusters and animated films. You can be guaranteed to get one for every entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and every Pixar entry. One of the best of last year was for “Mad Max: Fury Road,” offering details into the process behind the most Oscar-winning film of 2015. But some of them are more disposable than others, offering mere fan service with stills, dull quotes, and a few anecdotes. “The Little Prince” is not one of those.
From the very beginning, including the great artwork on the inside of the hard cover, one gets the sense that “The Little Prince” was an artistically conceived venture, not merely born into existence through a desire to make a buck. There is some concept art in the early part of this tie-in that I would hang on my wall. The team behind “The Little Prince” understood that a new approach was needed to tackle Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s timeless novel, and they have crafted an aesthetic that brings to mind the gorgeous work of LAIKA (“Coraline,” “Paranorman”) and some of the great French animators like Sylvain Chomet (“The Triplets of Belleville”). This tome is loaded with concept art, stills, storyboards, character design sketches, and much more. And it’s not just a picture book, often noting how the process impacted the final product—I loved the note about how the fact that over 40% of the animators were female (it’s a typically male profession) and how that impacts the dynamic between the little girl and her mother.
These tie-in books often come out the week after a film is released in theaters, to appeal to fans hoping to continue the experience of their new favorite flick. “The Little Prince” has made $100 million worldwide, winning the Cesar (the French Oscar equivalent) for Best Animated Feature, and stands as the highest-grossing French animated film before it’s even opened in the States. The English voice cast includes Jeff Bridges, Paul Rudd, James Franco, Marion Cotillard, Benicio Del Toro, Paul Giamatti, Albert Brooks and Ricky Gervais. I wanted to see it before this volume crossed my radar. Now I absolutely can’t wait.