In an era when Hollywood studios wanted big galumphing RoadShow Family musicals, Lerner & Loewe’s modestly-scaled, philosophically minded attempt at the classic Antoine de Saint-Exupéry grown-up kid’s book probably never had a chance. Trimmed down before release, then quickly dumped as a total loss by Paramount, it’s certainly not without its problems. Neither Richard Kiley’s downed pilot nor Steven Warner’s lost Prince feels quite right (and those wigs!); while the first half of the film only accents the book’s occasional cloying whimsy. But things improve as they go along with lenser Christopher Challis giving the show a one-of-a-kind picturebook look. Director Stanley Donen was right to be defensive about the film, some truly magical things happen. Especially when Bob Fosse, in a rare late front-of-the-camera appearance, shows up as a snake, sand-dancing in the Sahara. (Michael Jackson definitely took notice.) Or when Gene Wilder comes on as a hard-to-tame fox. It’s worth grinding your teeth thru some of the awkward bits to get at the good stuff as this final Alan Jay Lerner/Frederick Loewe score, though far too lushly scored*, is pretty gorgeous stuff.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Lerner had similar concerns with the initial orchestral arrangements in GIGI/’58, but also had the clout to get them pared down & re-recorded. Not here.