Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Adventures of the Little Prince - The Greatest Gift

Penned by Antoine de Saint-Expurey, “Le Petit Prince” was about a nameless boy living on a small asteroid called B-612 (According to this show that's pronounced "Bee-Six-Twelve"). He travels to Earth and makes all kinds of profound observations about the status of life there, and I’d like to tell you about it in more detail but while I owned the book as a child I never read it.

However it was adapted into an anime that aired on Nickelodeon from the mid-to-late 80’s, which I did see occasionally on trips to Grandma’s house. By catching passing shooting stars with a butterfly net the prince could travel to other planets and make profound observations on the state of being of the people he found there. And maybe, just maybe, we learned a little something about ourselves in the process. And in this particular one, the true meaning of Christmas or something like that.

The opening sequence informs us the show’s “Based on the character THE LITTLE PRINCE……conceived by ANTOINE de SAINT-EXPUREY and not directly on the book itself.” Since the end of the book would seem to preclude any further stories about him, yeah you’d think so. Although for the curious, there was a live-action movie based on the book.

Then a guy with a terrible French accent presumably meant to be the author basically explains the premise I just did, and how the prince heard from his buddy Swifty the space bird about Christmas and all its material manifestations like presents and snow and tree decorations and blah de blah, and wanted to check it out. Let’s see how the episode tackles this, shall we?

We see Swifty and the prince after they land on a tropical island (which doesn’t look very tropical and which seems merely a handy insert to explain why there’s no snow), and Swifty tries to wake up his companion. Not that he matters, since he immediately flies off to check in on some people on Jupiter.

That looks like a landing a small boy would survive, yeah.

The prince makes his way into town, marvels at the decorations, and is just in time to nearly be run down by a horse and buggy (incidentally, all the episodes I can remember appear to be set in the 1800’s or something, but I distinctly remember the prince talking about going to Disneyland. Not actually going there, of course, but talking about it). The passenger, an old man called the major, has his huge manservant bodily drag a young boy out of his house in order to adopt him. The prince protests that the major shouldn’t separate people from their families, even if it is to save the boy from a life of miserable poverty. Why’s the major so interested in adopting a young boy, you ask? Well, because he takes one look at the prince and recognizes the kid as the spitting image of his dear departed son. Really? We’re doing one of those?

The nostalgic among us might be interested to know both Swifty and the major are voiced by Hal Smith, who people my age probably know best as Gyro and Flintheart Glomgold from DuckTales (or if you're really nerdy the evil wizard from Dragon's Lair II). He does well as an eccentric inventor, but not so much as a stern old man. At least one without a Scottish accent and any apparent underworld ties.

The very accommodating prince is brought back to the major’s mansion, where more marveling over how he’s the very model of a modern major general…I mean, the major’s son, is done. The servants, by the way, appear to be indigenous, and talk in this frankly rather patronizing pidgin English that would probably get this show sent back these days. (crap like “Don’t make filler, plenty roast goose in tomorrow dinner”)

Shown his new room, the prince is amazed that it’s painted to look like the night sky and spots where B-612 is. This gets him thinking of home and a rose girl he takes care of, and that gets him thinking of sneaking out and seeing what Christmas is like for non-rich people. Conveniently there’s a ladder outside his window and a hole in the mansion wall, which seem like something a guy who’d previously been about to basically kidnap a boy to have someone to fill the void his son left would’ve taken care of beforehand.

Once back in town he catches the kid the major was trying to carry off before (Robby, since this cartoon apparently has a problem with naming people) running from a policeman with a stolen cake. The prince promises the major will take care of everything, but it’s not just the baker who’d like recompense since apparently the kid has a history of this kind of thing. The major refuses to pay back Robby’s victims, which makes the prince sad.

He plays to the major’s sympathies since the old man has everything and wants a son, while lots of boys have nothing and want a father. I suppose I’d be a little more sympathetic if this show didn’t seem to be saying the boy should be forgiven for stealing a luxurious cake (and released from police custody, yet) because it’s Christmas. My personal favorite Christmas stories are the ones that showed the people are capable of celebrating the holiday and their loved ones without needing tons of gifts and fancy food (even if they end up getting those things as a reward anyway). The prince even explains how the major’s maid is making up gift baskets full of nice things to give out to the less fortunate. Sure generosity’s something we ought to promote, but what about humility and the deeper meaning of the holiday?

Hiding out in a playground the prince finds a foster kitten abandoned under a bench and takes it to find someplace with a ceiling as it starts to know. “I guess they found homes for all your brothers and sisters and nobody wanted you. It happens with people sometimes too.” Oh I’m sorry, this does have a completely valid moral after all. It has a poor homeless kitten, it must.

The major’s maid tells him she’s wrapping Christmas presents but he’s not in a festive spirit; with the prince gone the gift that mattered most is gone too. The major even goes on about how the prince brought snow, it hasn’t done that in any time in the major’s memory. Okay, maybe we shouldn’t be asking the major to help people out. Seriously? The prince made it snow? I don’t think I conveyed this but as far as I can tell he doesn’t have any magic powers or anything other than an uncomplicated view of the world.

The major realizes he was just looking out for what he wanted when he abducted children back to his mansion, and sets out into the snowy night to find the prince. He finds the boy under a bridge talking to the kitten about how it’s not right to lock up a living creature. “If you love something you can try to help it but you don’t have to own it.”  Amazing how childhood innocence cuts right through all those issues like "real world logistics," huh?

Mr. Major admits he was wrong in only thinking about his own wants in seeking a new son and ignoring all the good he could do for the local downtrodden. He agrees to take in the little sneak thief and try to make a respectable lad out of him, even though the episode barely shows the kid at all and doesn’t really get into why he had to steal such a fancy cake for Christmas. I’m sorry, when I was five I probably would’ve bought this without thinking about the root causes. Of course when I was five I would’ve forgotten all about this when the next show started and I got to see Autobots wail on Decepticon tucus.

And the major throws a big Christmas party for the whole town and hands out gifts to all the kids. And the prince catches a comet back to his own little asteroid. No idea what happened to the cat. All in all a quick and inoffensive little Christmas episode. Although I don’t mind saying the Darkwing Duck one was deeper and more memorable.

Joyeux noel, everyone.

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