‘The Little Prince’ director Mark Osborne on seeking gender equality in animation

The Little Prince” director Mark Osborne was in New York City on August 30 for a special screening of his film for members of Women in Animation and ASIFA. During the Q&A discussion that followed, he explained not only the film itself, but also his interest in promoting greater gender parity behind the scenes. “I was inspired by my daughter to create [the Little Girl protagonist of the film],” Osborne explained. “I wanted to have a woman’s point of view to balance my own thoughts and ideas.”

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Before this film he was nominated for an Oscar for “Kung Fu Panda” (2008). He was proud of that film for including Tigress and Viper as positive female role models — until it was pointed out to him that they were the only two major female characters in the entire film, and he thought to himself, “Oh, I’m an idiot.” So for this female-centered story he actively sought as many female animators as he could find to take part in the project. “We had 40-45% women animators. I was very happy and lucky because the Little Girl is in practically every frame of the movie, and it was important to us to get that right.”

Like the film’s protagonist, Osborne’s feminism is inspired by his daughter. “She now wants to be an animator,” he revealed. “I’m going to try to make the world a better place for everybody who’s trying to work in animation, women in particular, and selfishly for my daughter.”

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The film is inspired by the classic French children’s novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry about an aviator who crashes in the desert and encounters the title character, who is trying to return to his tiny home planet. Osborne, himself a fan of the book, initially felt the short, beloved tale wouldn’t work as a straightforward film adaptation. “I felt that just taking the book and stretching it out wouldn’t work,” he said. So he found a different approach to the material.

Enter the Little Girl, voiced by Mackenzie Foy. She’s a new character created for the film: an overworked, over-pressured child enrolling in a new, elite school. She meets an eccentric, elderly man next door: the Aviator (Jeff Bridges), who is desperate to share the story of his experience in the desert with the Little Prince. “I thought, what happens if [the Aviator] went through all that trouble to create the story but nobody understood it,” Osborne explained about his re-imagining. “What if his book has never been shared with anybody?”

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By taking an indirect route to the story of “The Little Prince,” Osborne wanted to “not just make a movie out of the book, but make a movie out of that experience that somebody could have with the book.” That includes adults as well as children. “I make movies for humans,” he said. “I think animation is an incredible medium to tell emotional stories. It has an incredible ability to speak to the child inside of us. When grown-ups are surprised by an animated film affecting them, it’s because they kind of forgot what it’s like to be a kid.”

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