On May 10th, 2017, director, producer, and animator Mark Osborne was awarded with the insignia of Chevalier of the Order of Arts at a ceremony hosted by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. Cultural Counselor Bénédicte de Montlaur conferred the insignia to him in recognition of his achievements in film — notably his animated adaptation of The Little Prince by French writer and pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry –- and his work with the Antoine de Saint Exupéry Youth Foundation dedicated to improving the everyday lives of disadvantaged youth according to author Saint-Exupéry’s humanist legacy.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen,
As Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, it is my pleasure to welcome you all tonight in celebration of director, producer, animator, and Saint-Exupéry enthusiast, Mark Osborne, whose hugely successful 2015 adaptation of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry captivated audiences worldwide. When we take a closer look at Saint-Exupéry and his work it becomes clear, Mark, that somehow you were meant to cross paths with it and help the world rediscover its genius.
Throughout his life not only in France but also during sojourns in Canada and the United States, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry pursued an everlasting quest for answers to life’s fundamental questions, for knowledge about himself and the world around him. An exceptional writer, poet, aviator, and philosopher, he took his readers with him around the universe, from asteroid B-612 to the middle of the Sahara desert.
The Little Prince, a children’s novella for adults, voted best book of the 20th Century in France, was written a little more than 100 miles from here, on Long Island, in the midst of the Second World War. A tale of innocence, growing-up, and the unknown, it was translated more than 300 times and is said to reflect Saint-Exupéry’s own travel experiences and struggles with the spread of Nazism. The Little Prince is an intricate social and philosophical commentary wrapped in simplicity and purity, and requires time and effort to understand. The story’s narrator, in the first chapter, says, “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.” It is good, then, that we have found someone else—an adult with a child’s heart—to translate the story for us and share it with the rest of the world.
Mark Osborne, your unique talent in animation and directing transformed The Little Prince from a literary masterpiece to a cinematographic one. Thanks to you, Saint-Exupéry’s legacy has traveled across the world and been rediscovered by all generations. That being said, you did more than give motion to his watercolors—you also showed the world the personal relationship you have with him through his writing. Making this movie on your own, without losing touch with the spirit of the original story, was a difficult feat—so difficult that your initial instinct was to reject the project. Giants such as Orson Welles and Walt Disney had attempted it years ago, but ultimately given up. We are lucky the allure of the Prince proved too strong to resist!
More than 25 years ago, your wife gifted you with a copy of The Little Prince to remind you of her during college. If the story carries any single message, it is that carried in the iconic quote, “On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur, l’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux” or “One only sees rightly with the heart; what is essential is invisible to the eye,” one of your favorite quotes (one of everybody’s) I think. The book taught you how to love across distances, but it also gave you the tools to understand your own history. Its life philosophy became yours, and an integral part of you.
It is no doubt this personal connection to the novella that attracted the attention of French producers Aton Soumache, Dimitri Rassam and Alexis Vonard when they came to you with the idea of adapting it to the big screen. Although you were unsure, perhaps doubting your ability to truly do justice it, in 2009 you gave in to your desire to share with others the beauty you had seen in the Little Prince so many years before.
You and your family moved to Paris to immerse yourself in Saint-Exupéry’s culture and home environment. You discovered the land the famous aviator grew up in, and got to know his great nephews. In a little more than two years, you developed your project with a team of artists to create the CGI and stop-motion material inspired by Saint-Exupéry’s original drawings that would earn your movie a César in France for best animated feature. It was a family enterprise: your wife, son, and daughter all participated, voicing the main characters’ parts until official actors were cast. Your son, in fact, was cast for the part of the Little Prince. Between this intimate relationship with the novella and the multiple critically acclaimed animated short films and box office hits under your belt– including “Kung Fu Panda,” to which your son also lent his voice, and “More,” nominated at the Academy Awards for “Best Animated Short Film”– you had all the tools at your disposal to transform Saint-Exupéry’s poetry into a visual tour de force. Olivier de Giraud d’Agay himself, the great nephew of Saint-Exupéry and the manager of his estate who is here with us today, applauded it as “the most delicate and respectful way to honor his great uncle’s masterpiece.”
Your dedication to Saint-Exupéry’s legacy, however, goes beyond your contribution to The Little Prince- inspired works. You are also a member of the patronage committee of the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation, contributing to the promotion and influence of the foundation all over the world. Thanks to the help of people like you, Mark, the Foundation undertakes various projects providing educational, cultural, and artistic opportunities for disadvantaged youth all over the world. It is present in nearly 30 countries, and many of its projects, such as the creation of a Little Prince braille and tactile art book by artist and publisher Claude Garrandes for visually impaired children have met with wide-spread success.
The Order of Arts and Letters was established in 1957 by the French government in order to recognize those who have made extraordinary contributions to the arts, literature, and culture in France and throughout the world. In different ways, Mark, you have promoted Saint-Exupéry’s humanist values and spread his poetic contribution to France’s literary heritage throughout the world. You have enabled millions to rediscover themselves and the world around them through the fantastical epic of the Little Prince. I would like to quote the chef d’oeuvreone last time: “The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched; they are felt with the heart.” You felt the Little Prince with your heart, Mark, thanks to the important role it played throughout your life, and that is why you were able to translate it into a cinematic masterpiece which has spoken so deeply to audiences everywhere. You give new life to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s legacy every day, and for this,
Mark Osborne, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.