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'The Little Prince' director on the gender imbalance in animated films

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Filmmaker Mark Osborne says research on the disparity between the number of film roles for men and women inspired him to put the focus on female characters in "The Little Prince."

We hear all the time about the disparity between roles for men and women in film.

Turns out, gender inequality is an issue within many kid's movies, too.

For example, in many Disney animated princess films, male characters often speak more than female ones. In "The Little Mermaid" guys speak 68 percent of the time, even though it's a film about… a mermaid.

Recently one filmmaker, who's also a dad, decided to reboot a classic story for the big screen by giving more parts to girls.

Mark Osborne is the director of the new Netflix film "The Little Prince," which features not only a little prince and an aviator, but also a little girl and her mother.  

Interview highlights:

How fear of tackling such a beloved story lead to the new plot line

I was asked if I wanted to make an adaptation of this book and I was quite stumped. And I really felt like there was no way to approach it that wasn't going to create problems and I was really looking for some inspiration. And that was right around the time that I'd participated in the Geena Davis Institute study you that really put a spotlight on the issue of the imbalance and the inequity in sort of women's roles, especially in animated films. So I had this notion that I wanted to tell a larger story around the book, but I really didn't know what that was. And I feel like that study really pushed me to think in a very very different way. And I just looked my daughter and just really found inspiration in her to say well I should just create a little girl character that is reading the story and let her be the one that brings the story into our experience. We're seeing it in her imagination.

How living in Los Angeles helped inspire the story of an overscheduled little girl and her mother's determination to get her into the "right" school

I think we felt very pressured and as young parents the joke was if they don't get into the right kindergarten it's like everything's done. They're done for the rest of their lives. And it's kind of ridiculous, so we were trying to shine a spotlight on that and be satirical and kind of make fun of that. But the biggest, craziest idea in the movie, the "life plan," actually came about when my writer Irena Brignull was driving her kids and some of his schoolmates home one day and from the back of the car she heard this seven-year-old kid say something about his future. And she said 'How do you know that?' And he said 'Oh it's in my mom's life plan.' And there was no chart, it was just this notion of a life plan, and we kind of ran with it. And she kept saying 'No no no there wasn't a chart.' And we're like 'I don't care! We're making a giant chart!'

What the process of making the film taught him about parenting 

In the beginning, when we were developing the story, the little girl had both a mom and a dad that were present, and it actually made it more difficult to tell the story and there was a point where we had to really condense things down and simplify and we had to drastically change things. And by making the dad sort of more of a ghost and to kind of pull him out of the story, it actually helped us focus more on the core ideas in the book about abandonment and that love is never easy and relationships are never easy... But what it actually ended up doing was it got to me at a much deeper level because I became the dad that wasn't there for my family and I was working a lot. It was really difficult because I felt like I was kind of experiencing this thing that I was asking this little girl in this movie to deal with. And I think really helped me focus and it helped me stay as close to them as I could be. But it really hit home when my daughter was asked to do a family portrait for her art class. And she showed me the portrait when it was done and it was these amazing cutout characters. And I could see my wife Kim and I could see Riley and Maddy and our two little dogs. And they're all encircling and holding this laptop. And it took me a minute to realize that my picture was on the laptop. I was Skyping in. So by the time I kind of got what I was seeing, it was beautiful but it was also really sad at the same time. It was this expression of love because I was still there, and it was understanding, but I think that's why this project is really such a family project, because they were incredibly supportive throughout and incredibly understanding.

Illustration by Maddie Osborne, The Little Muse for The Little Prince
Courtesy of Mark Osborne
Illustration by Maddie Osborne, The Little Muse for The Little Prince

To hear the full interview with Mark Osborne, click the blue player above. 

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