The film and its music were unsuccessful at the box office but became somewhat popular after its theatrical run, and has been released for sale on various media.
The original Little Prince novella was first published in 1943, and is the most famous work of the French aristocrat, writer, poet and pioneering aviator Count Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900–1944). It is a poetic tale self-illustrated in watercolours in which a pilot stranded in the desert meets a young prince fallen to Earth from a tiny asteroid. The story is philosophical and includes societal criticism, remarking on the strangeness of the adult world.
Though ostensibly a children's book, The Little Prince makes several profound and idealistic observations about life and human nature. For example, Saint-Exupéry tells of a fox meeting the young prince during his travels on Earth. The story's essence is contained in the lines uttered by the fox to the little prince: On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. ("One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.") Other key thematic messages are articulated by The Fox, such as: "You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed" and "It is the time you have devoted to your rose that makes your rose so important." The Fox's messages are arguably the most famous because of their nature of dealing with relationships.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote and illustrated The Little Prince in New York City and Asharoken, N.Y. in mid-to-late 1942 while exiled in the United States after the Fall of France, with the manuscript being completed in October. It would be first published in early 1943 in both English and French, but only in the U.S. It would later appear in his native homeland of France posthumously, after the liberation of Paris, as all of Saint-Exupéry's works had been banned in Nazi-occupied France. Since first being published the novella has been adapted to various media over the decades, including audio recordings, stage, ballet, and operatic works.
The fantasy-musical film adaptation of The Little Prince was directed and produced by Stanley Donen, and stars Steven Warner in the title role, with Richard Kiley as the aviator, titled as The Pilot. Additional cast members included Bob Fosse (who choreographed his own dance sequence, including an early version of what would come to be known as the moonwalk) as The Snake, Gene Wilder as The Fox, Donna McKechnie as the petulant, vain Rose, Joss Ackland as The King, and Victor Spinetti as The Historian. The film's desert sequences were shot on location in Tunisia. In real life, The Fox's character is believed to be based on one of Saint-Exupéry's lovers, Sylvia Hamilton Reinhardt, with The Rose being attributed to the author's wife, the Countess Consuelo de Saint Exupéry.
The production was Lerner and Loewe's final musical. The music's creative team were dissatisfied with the film's Hollywood treatment, with Loewe refusing to visit London to supervise the arrangement and recording of the score.
Based in the 1943 classic book of the same name by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the fable tells the story of an aviator (played by Richard Kiley) forced to make an emergency landing in the Sahara Desert. There he is befriended by a young boy, the Little Prince, who had descended to Earth from Asteroid B-612. In the days that follow, The Pilot hears about his past and various journeys throughout the solar system.
As he travels through space, the Little Prince encounters several strange grown-ups on different planetoids, all with a skewed or curious way of looking at life. But it is not until he finally reaches Earth, that the Little Prince learns his most important life lessons of all, mainly from The Fox (Gene Wilder), and The Snake (Bob Fosse). Before the Little Prince dies, he shares those lessons with The Pilot. Although The Pilot tries to keep the Little Prince alive, the boy disappears in the morning and The Pilot searches for him in the desert but gives up after realizing that the Little Prince never existed. Soon The Pilot is able to start his plane and flies away but hears the laughter of the Little Prince in the starry night; he believes the boy has returned to space.Steven Warner as The Little PrinceRichard Kiley as The PilotBob Fosse as The SnakeGene Wilder as The FoxDonna McKechnie as The RoseJoss Ackland as The KingGraham Crowden as The GeneralVictor Spinetti as The HistorianClive Revill as The Businessman
Richard Burton was actively pursued for the role of The Pilot. Burton had had a huge success on Broadway with Lerner and Loewe's musical production Camelot, but turned down the role in The Little Prince.
This is an incomplete listing of musical numbers in the film adaptation:
- "I Need Air (It's A Hat)" - The Pilot, Chorus
- "I'm on Your Side" - The Pilot
- "Be Happy" - The Rose
- "You're a Child" - The King and The Businessman
- "I Never Met a Rose" - The Pilot
- "Why is the Desert" - The Pilot and The Little Prince
- "A Snake in the Grass" - The Snake
- "Closer and Closer and Closer" - The Fox and The Little Prince
- "Little Prince" - The Pilot
- "Finale - The Little Prince" - Chorus
The film was shot on location in Tunisia.
In 1973, Lerner and Loewe recorded the score at the Palm Springs Desert Museum, with Lerner on vocals and Loewe at the piano. It included "Matters of Consequence", which was cut from the film. It is one of only a few existing recordings of the duo performing together.
The film had production design by John Barry (not to be confused with composer John Barry, who later composed a musical adaptation of The Little Prince for Broadway).
A soundtrack album was released by ABC Records. It is now available in CD format on the Decca Records label.