Paramount // 1974 // 88 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // May 14th, 2004
A musical based on one of the most beloved children's books in print. Big mistake.
Despite a cast and crew renowned for excellence, The Little Prince is a bad film. Garnering scathing to lukewarm reviews in 1974, time has not been kind to this minor musical.
The Pilot (Richard Kiley) is flying from Paris when his plane crashes in the barren desert. While trying to repair his engine, he encounters a young boy (Steven Warner), who asks him to draw a sheep. After several attempts, the Pilot realizes that this is no ordinary boy. In fact, the boy is a Little Prince from Asteroid B-612.
Upon questioning, the Little Prince reveals that he is in the desert because he has left his tiny asteroid to learn about life. During his journey, he encounters a nutty King (Joss Ackland, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey), a wily Snake (Bob Fosse), and a tame Fox (Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory).
It looked promising on paper. The original novella by French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery was essential children's reading. Alan Jay Lerner (An American in Paris) wrote the screenplay. Lerner and Frederick Loewe composed the original score. Experienced musical director Stanley Donen (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers) signed on to produce and direct. A top cast was assembled. What could go wrong? Alas, The Little Prince is far from the masterpiece it should be. It is not even a good film. Instead, all that talent combined to make a somber, stodgy bore.
I think the mistake was in making The Little Prince a musical. Saint-Exupery's novella is a slight and breezy work. The only way a musical version could work is if the songs had a light feel. Loewe's melodies are beautiful, but Lerner's lyrics are the Achilles's heel. Aside from being incoherent, the lyrics are heavy-handed and often somber.
Lerner's screenplay compounds the problem. While his previous screenplays (Camelot, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever) were well crafted and entertaining, sadly, his screenplay for The Little Prince is a sloppy mess. He cobbles scenes together with no sense of coherency or plotting, the dialogue is stilted and cheesy, and songs are dropped in without warning or set-up. Apparently, no one had the courage to send Lerner back to the typewriter. If ever a film desperately needed a rewrite, it is this one. Furthermore, The Little Prince is boring. Even with the brief running time of 88 minutes, it feels endless, its scenes held together with saliva instead of glue. I don't want to give anything away, but by the climatic scene, I kept hoping the Little Prince would just go home already.
Stanley Donen made his mark in musicals, particularly in his three collaborations with Gene Kelly. However, he also established himself as a capable dramatic director, with masterpieces such as Charade (1963), Arabesque (1966), and Two for the Road (1967) and flawed films such as Staircase (1970). Sadly, The Little Prince displays none of the Donen's strengths. His direction is stilted and static without the energy and style that marked his earlier work. My guess is that he knew this was a disaster and simply relegated himself to damage control.
The actors try to save this film, but, despite their prominent billing in the credits, neither Bob Fosse nor Gene Wilder stars in the picture. In fact, you have to sit through an hour of tedium until Fosse appears. When he does, the film comes alive. The energy and vitality of his singing and dancing lighten things up considerably. He is so good I wish he had directed this film. With Fosse behind the camera, The Little Prince would have been a livelier picture. Wilder is fine as the Fox -- he adds a touch of comedy to the proceedings, and he also sings the film's best song -- and Richard Kiley brings a humanity and dignity to the Pilot. Unfortunately, Steven Warner was the wrong choice to play the Little Prince. On top of the heavy British accent that makes his dialogue difficult to understand, his acting is ghastly. He is stiff and unconvincing when he should be lively and full of wonderment. When the lead actor cannot win over the audience, it spells doom for the entire enterprise.
Paramount offers the first-ever widescreen home video edition of The Little Prince on this DVD. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is mediocre. I imagine that Christopher Challis' cinematography looked gorgeous in a theater, but the video transfer for this DVD makes it difficult to make such a definitive statement. The image is excessively soft with heavy grain often dominating, scratches and specks are frequent, and the colors range from beautiful to pale. This is not how a major studio musical should look.
Audio is a different story. The Dolby Digital 2.0 surround mix is superb, sounding rich and vibrant throughout. Now if only there were songs and dialogue worthy of the mix...
Not a single extra has been included, which is becoming a scary trend among recent Paramount releases. There is no excuse not to have the theatrical trailer. Despite the film's ultimate failure, why not have a commentary track from director Donen? He has been willing to discuss his work in the past.
Even though it's available for a dirt cheap price of $9.99 in some stores, you won't lose a wink of sleep if you pass over The Little Prince. If you're the slightest bit curious, rent it.
They tried, but not even that roll call of great talent could save it. Guilty!
Review content copyright © 2004 Bill Treadway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Rated G