I read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery many years ago. I loved it so much that at one point, I had a journal filled with sketches of the Little Prince in the margins and corners of the pages. It is a timeless book, with so many layered messages. It is a book to be read at many times in a life, not just when you are a child. One thing that struck me about the movie is that it focuses on the theme of loss-loss of a father, loss of a friend, loss of a childhood. The little girl's mother is a single mother, her father is not present in her life except for the occasional birthday gift. Her mother has plans and schedules for her, designed and intended to make her successful and strong enough to survive in the world alone (I felt a lot of sympathy for the mother, even as I could see that she had let her fears and personal experiences blind her to her daughter's needs as a child). They move to a new neighborhood so the girl will go to a prestigious school, and their neighbor is the Aviator, now an old man with a dreadful habit of starting an old biplane in his back yard. He and the little girl slowly develop a friendship, and he tells her his story (the present parts of the movie are CG, the past parts are animated in a cut paper style of animation). She discovers the joy of climbing trees and playing with glow in the dark paint, and having a stuffed friend. Toward the end of the movie she learns how the story ends and becomes upset, and has a typical child reaction to the Aviator-she gets angry and leaves. Then he is hospitalized, and she decides to find the Little Prince and be sure he remembers the Aviator. This leads her to her own adventure, which ends with her and the Little Prince getting to his home asteroid, only to find that the rose has died from lack of care-but we learn that she lives on in the Little Prince's memory. The girl goes home, reassures the Aviator the Little Prince remembers him, and goes to her prestigious school with a few more things in her than she had before she met the Aviator.
We don't learn exactly what happened to the Aviator. We can infer that he wasn't well, and it is entirely possible that he died, but he could also have recovered-we are not given any indication. The girl and her mother move into a slightly less regimented life, taking time to look at the stars at night and read stories and draw boa constrictors swallowing elephants. She accepts the loss of the Little Prince, and possibly the loss of the Aviator.
I love children's literature (and movies) that deal with hard topics in ways that don't try to disguise them too much. The Little Prince is an excellent example of such a book-it addresses the loss of a friend, the loss of a loved one, in a way that shows it is okay to miss them, and okay to remember. It also shows that sometimes grown ups get it wrong, and that sometimes the most important thing to do is to watch the sunset with a friend. Some of my favorite books from my childhood dealt with big topics-Heidi, The Little Prince, even the American Girls Series books, all the fairy tales. It is an important aspect of children's literature to help children understand heavy topics such as death, facing fears and uncertainties, and so many other things; through literature they can "experience" these topics and learn ways to deal with them.