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The Little Prince

The Little Prince
1974 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 88 min. / Street Date 2004 /
Starring Richard Kiley, Steven Warner, Bob Fosse, Gene Wilder, Joss Ackland, Clive Revill, Donna McKechnie, Victor Spinetti, Graham Crowden
Cinematography Christopher Challis
Production Designer John Barry
Art Direction Norman Reynolds
Costume Design Tim Goodchild, Shirley Russell
Film Editor George Hively
Original Music Douglas Gamley, Frederick Loewe
Written by Alan Jay Lerner from Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Produced and Directed by Stanley Donen

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Stanley Donen brings style and taste to this musical adaptation of the children's book The Little Prince. It's colorful and there are some good songs, and Richard Kiley holds the show together as best he can. But even with the sometimes-interesting visuals, the material is slight. An allegory that's missing something, this show begs for further interpretation.


The pilot (Richard Kiley) has to set his experimental plane down in the Sahara, and while he's trying to fix it encounters a tiny blonde child (Steven Warner) in a full coat, carrying a sword. He's The Little Prince, trying to get back to his tiny asteroid home where he tended a Rose (Donna McKechnie). He planet-hopped on the way to Earth, encountering a King (Joss Ackland), a businessman (Clive Revill), a historian (Victor Spinetti) and a general (Graham Crowden). All dismiss the Prince as a meddling child when he asks questions about their adult ways. On Earth, the Prince befriends a fox (Gene Wilder) and is tempted by a serpent (Bob Fosse) who says he can free him to return to his asteroid - with a deadly bite.

The Little Prince as told here is insubstantial and overly precious. The whimsy of the little asteroid (which appears to be about 20 feet in diameter) is presented with clever special effects, but most of the other magic has to be taken for granted as the Prince is towed from planet to planet by cartoon birds. The desert he lands on is augmented with front-projected skies and extreme lighting effects. The various representatives of adult concerns - greed, military madness, politics - are fairly ineffectual Alice in Wonderland-type episodes. All have songs to sing, mostly forgettable ones. There's some very exacting but not always interesting effects, such as when Clive Revill (Avanti!) and Victor Spinetti (A Hard Day's Night) are shot through doorknob-shaped fisheye lenses that make them almost unrecognizable.

It's a film of episodes. Bob Fosse fans will want the film just for his dance segment as the black snake who promises the Prince a happy demise. For small children not acquainted with the concept of death, this section could be very disturbing. Gene Wilder's section is certainly cute but I have a feeling his tentative song about being "tamed" by the boy will suggest a vague feeling of pedophilia to all but the purest-minded viewers, or those not familiar with Wilder's innocent-child persona. Compensating mightily is a hilarious shot of Wilder sitting in a field waiting, with a backdrop I'm sure came from Tales of Peter Rabbit and Beatrix Potter)

There's not much of a barrier between what's real and what's not. Richard Kiley is stuck in the desert like one of the survivors of The Flight of the Phoenix. He's visited by the fantastic, impossible figure of this beautiful boy, who demands that he draw the imaginative pictures he drew when he was a child. Unlike everyone else in the pilot's life, the Prince recognizes what the drawings are supposed to be. Is the pilot "finding himself" or "discovering" the child hidden inside? Or is he experiencing a vision of the child he wants to have? The Little Prince doesn't want to get any more specific about itself. Uunless the light songs appeal in themselves, it's bound to be a bit of a frustrating experience.


The songs become somewhat tedious, with Kiley singing as if in an operetta. The visuals are repetitious, and the ending will be either incomprehensible or traumatic for sensitive kids (perhaps the Prince never existed, but he definitely croaks on-screen). We can't figure out if the original children's story has the same vague philosophy, or whether the wishy-washy ethereal goop of Jonathan Livingston Seagull (hey, now there's a knee-slapper) found its way into this picture too. This is a disciplined and creative exercise with some clever visuals, but it just doesn't hold the attention the way it should.

Paramount's DVD of The Little Prince is devoid of any extras. The picture and audio are fine, with the caveat that some obvious optical sections are granier than normal. The color is excellent, and the enhanced widescreen image composes scenes attractively. Maurice Binder's titles (which carry Stanley Donen's little square logo) appear to be accomplished with a very primitive form of video animation.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Little Prince rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 20, 2004

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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