Santa Barbara International Film Festivals opens with the Little Prince

Roger Durling with Mark Osborne, Mackenzie Foy, and Jeff Bridges at the opening night of the 31st annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival. (Feb. 3, 2016)

As Roger Durling, the creative director at the helm of SBIFF for 13 years and counting, took the stage on opening night to introduce the film The Little Prince to a packed crowd composed of volunteers, film buffs, filmmakers, and a certain Dude (or Jeff Bridges, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing), he emphasized the importance of community.

After paraphrasing one of his favorite lines from the book, “We must endure meeting all the caterpillars to meet butterflies,” the lights came up and Durling asked his audience to turn to a neighbor they didn’t know and chat for a minute —an exercise that warmed up the crowd and probably made the night of whomever was sitting next to Mr. Bridges.

As the lights of the Arlington dimmed back down, Durling urged attendees: “Don’t let the mundane things take over…keep that sense of amazement and meet new people.”

This was an apt sentiment to kick off the U.S. premiere of The Little Prince, director Mark Osborne’s adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beloved children’s book. The film follows a little girl (voiced by Mackenzie Foy, who was in attendance) who’s airless, neatly ordered life is so heavily structured by her mother (Rachel McAdams) that the girl could only fit a friendship into a half-hour block on “Thursdays…next summer.”

After The Aviator (Jeff Bridges), the colorful older gentleman who lives next door, makes a literal bad first impression when a propeller from his airplane (which he tried to start in his backyard, like you do), slices through the side of the girl’s house, she defies her mother’s schedule and befriends the old man. In doing so, she trades her math textbooks for the Aviator’s story of The Little Prince (voiced by Riley Osborne, the director’s son), a boy that the aviator claims he met in the desert. As the film introduces the Prince — a lonesome boy who lives on a tiny asteroid — the film moves from CGI to stop-motion animation, which more clearly replicates the charm of the watercolor illustrations in the original book. As the little girl loses herself in the story of the Prince, she learns to value joy and human connection over efficiency.

After the credits began to roll, filmgoers filed out of the Arlington and down to the bustling Opening Night Gala at the Paseo Nuevo, where Santa Barbara’s makeshift film community celebrated the first in what looks to be an exciting array of films.