When I first read The Little Prince, I was utterly spellbound. It was an existential exploration that shaped the way I thought about life, love, and growing up. I loved how it depicted grown-ups and their peculiar ways. It was fantastic and whimsical but at the same time, so filled with truth.
The book carved such a special place in my heart that I still go back to it, even now that I’m older. At 23, I didn’t expect to still be sobbing over Pixar movies, referencing Spongebob episodes, or getting excited over the release of a new Netflix cartoon. Case in point was the release of The Midnight Gospel. I was excited to discover that, beyond the spectacle of its visuals and the novelty of its format, it seemed to be made up of the same magical sweet stuff as my favorite children’s book.
Created by Pendleton Ward (the same genius behind Adventure Time), The Midnight Gospel is everything that I enjoy in a series, served on one convenient binge plate. It was a sort of quasi-adaptation of The Duncan Trussell Family Hour podcast complemented with stunning, psychedelic animation and I was hooked by the end of the first episode. At the time, the show seemed very familiar, but it wasn’t until main protagonist, Clancy Gilroy, stumbled upon a magical rose that I made the Little Prince association.
After that, the parallels were too obvious: The Midnight Gospel, through its eight-episode run, presents seven different locations. The Little Prince also showcases 7 planets. Coincidence? I think not. The clinchers were the magical roses that exist in both Clancy and The Little Prince’s realms. As Clancy tried to revive his dying rose with synthesizers, I seriously wished that The Little Prince would have swooped in to give Clancy some much-needed tips on plant care.
I wonder if the creators realized that there would be allusions between the two narratives or if these were just chance similarities and me playing connect-the-dots. What fascinated me while drawing these parallels was seeing how often we use the format of cartoons, animated series, and children books — supposedly “juvenile” mediums — to actually tell stories of profound depth.
The story of The Little Prince revolves around an airplane pilot stranded in the desert and his strange encounter with a young boy from asteroid B-612 who finds himself on earth after a planet-hopping adventure. On a similar interplanetary trajectory, The Midnight Gospel introduces Clancy Gilroy (voiced by Duncan Trussell himself) who drops into different worlds through his universe simulator in search of interviewees for his spacecasts.
Behind seemingly simple introductions, the stories progress to reveal their motivations: a need to escape from things they do not want to face. Clancy distracts himself with explorations into multiverses to keep himself from dealing with grief over his father’s death and his mother’s own impending passing. This aspect of Clancy’s story is actually based on Duncan Trussell’s true-to-life experience. Meanwhile, The Little Prince has his heart broken by a rare rose he has taken care of, and leaves his planet after tasting the first bitter feeling of distrust towards something he once loved.
So, off they go. Clancy traverses worlds through his vagina-shaped universe simulator, and The Little Prince is whisked away to the nearest planet by a flight of migrating birds. Throughout their journeys they come across strange worlds with even stranger inhabitants. This is definitely the strongest similarity between the two — The Midnight Gospel and The Little Prince are chronicles of conversations.
The Midnight Gospel trailer encapsulates the nature of these conversations in one beautiful line: “In every universe there is a question, in every person there is an answer.” While Clancy certainly finds himself in more bizarre and disturbing situations than the Little Prince, their exchanges with the inhabitants are equally illuminating.
There are heavier lessons. In one episode, Clancy visits a soul prison where inmates are caught in an existential trap, doomed to die repeatedly. A similarly paradoxical cycle is told in The Little Prince when he meets a tippler who drinks to forget the shame of drinking. And then, there are the enlightening ones like Clancy’s discussion on forgiveness with a heroine who literally kills with kindness (She screams ‘I forgive you!’ while whipping out some pretty badass artillery) and The Little Prince’s conversation with the desert fox about the essential things in life.
Our heroes are eventually confronted by the very things they were running away from. Clancy is picked up by his mom on a literal mothership (A spacecraft manned by his mother and her crew of bears), and they open up about death and grief. On earth, The Little Prince is surprised to find entire bushes of roses, leaving him questioning the uniqueness of his rose and his relationship with it.
These encounters lead to sobering realizations, not only for them but also for us. The candid and incredibly vulnerable conversation Duncan Trussell shared with his mother completely crushed me, and the words of wisdom that the desert fox shared to The Little Prince about being ‘tamed’ and what truly makes his rose special moved me so powerfully.
In the end, they conquer themselves in beautiful ways, mustering up the courage to deal with their emotions, their doubt, and their fears. The two tales come to a heartbreaking close with the death of the protagonists but actually leave a little room for interpretation. The Little Prince “dies” and leaves his physical form to return to his asteroid while Clancy’s consciousness also dies as a planet sucked into a black hole.
While there are parallels between the two, there are certainly many differences. The Midnight Gospel openly discusses life, death, and spirituality, while The Little Prince often takes a more metaphorical route in talking about “matters of consequence”.
Stories like these, told through this medium of animation, make me feel less conscious about memorizing songs from Steven Universe or crying bucket-loads of tears when I first watched Klaus. I’m reminded that there are so many of us who haven’t quite completely grown up. I guess just having that child-like abandon, enjoying out-of-this world cartoons to try and answer some “of-this-world” questions might be the closest we can get to actually understanding anything.
And maybe it’s because deep down, we know that we already had things figured out as kids.
Header art by Sophie Brodit
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