Netflix has become the distributing savior for The Little Prince in the United States but, without a theatrical release, I can’t help but feel we’ve all been robbed of a very special movie-going experience.
Paramount Pictures, which originally owned the stateside rights to The Little Prince (based on the beloved Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novella), inexplicably pulled the critically-acclaimed animated feature from release just one week prior to its set date of March 18. This, despite it playing well globally to the tune of $90 million dollars and counting, making it France’s most successful animated feature export of all time. Certainly its ability to “translate” here in the States wasn’t in question, with a voice cast led by Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, James Franco, and Marion Cotillard. Suddenly, the United States was the only major market in the world where the film’s distribution was uncertain.
That uncertainty became short-lived when, on March 17, Netflix announced it had purchased the U.S. distribution rights and would premiere it exclusively on its streaming service in the fall. There was instant glee and relief by many who have been anticipating this visually ambitious effort since it premiered to raves at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2015. But at best it’s a mixed blessing, and ultimately a defeat.
The truth is, getting to see it at some point wasn’t ever really in question. It was always going to be a case of “when”, not “if”, and the “when” would eventually include home video in its various forms. But the “if” that remained was if American audiences would ever get the chance to see it in movie theaters. And with their streaming-exclusive announcement, Netflix closed the door on that possibility once and for all. A very, very disheartening conclusion to a completely bewildering turn of events.
Yes, I’m grateful Netflix stepped up, especially since it was a hard pitch for Hollywood’s other major studios to grab it; they have their own animation houses to nurture. But to see that it was Netflix – instead of, say, Amazon, which has made an expressed commitment to traditional theatrical distribution for its feature film titles – makes the resolution bittersweet, with an emphasis on bitter. The trailer alone (see below) shows that this deserves to be seen on a big screen canvas. Everyone but those in the United States will get that chance.