When the pilot (Richard Kiley) was a young boy he dreamed of becoming an artist, but his drawing of a boa constrictor swallowing an elephant was not well-received as the adults he showed the sketch to were convinced he was wasting his time drawing a hat. Even when he clarified the situation by drawing it as a cross-section so the elephant was plainly visible, his efforts were dismissed, so eventually he gave up on those dreams and opted to take to the skies flying aeroplanes instead, indeed he had become very disenchanted with the grown-up world and was never happier than when he was up in the air, contemplating the infinite...
However, what goes up must come down, and the pilot crashes in the desert, which was where things got rather imaginative, as you would know if you'd ever read Antoine de Saint Exupéry's metaphorical meditation The Little Prince. Sort of the Jonathan Livingston Seagull of its day but with more literary heft, it told the tale of the pilot meeting a small boy while he was out there in the middle of nowhere trying to fix his plane, and listening to how this alien prince's experiences echoed his own real life encounters until his final revelation and acceptance of his position in the great scheme of things. A film version was the obvious choice, and naturally as a family entertainment it was turned into a musical.
Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe were the men behind that idea, and renowned director of the genre, on stage and on film, Stanley Donen was hired to helm what was expected to be a big success, yet when it was released the reaction was less than welcoming, with complaints that the songs were poor, the design was offputting, and the sense that they were overdoing what was a delicate source never far away. It was true enough there was a distinctly strident air to the proceedings, but that overemphatic delivery was the key to what was actually missing the mark: an overabundance of sincerity that made the film somewhat embarrassing to watch unless you wholly bought into its idea of childlike fantasy.
It was just one of a number of musicals and fantasies (and musical fantasies) that fell flat with the majority of the public in this decade, so either it was indicative of the degradation of the form or if you were fond of these productions it proved that the public appetite had coarsened and was no longer interested in gossamer fictions from Hollywood. The truth may have been somewhere in between, for there was some particularly striking imagery in The Little Prince thanks to Donen's use of fish eye lenses exaggerating his visuals, and many other tricks to keep the effort looking interesting. Alas, with the passage of time, and maybe even back when it was released, that sincerity struck early and never let up, leaving not one intentional laugh but far too many unintentional ones.
At least the cast was inviting, each adult aside from the pilot an example of why the grown-up world needed to remember what it was like to be a dreamy child and have a little sympathy every once in a while. On the planets the Prince (whose line readings were rather mumbled) visits after abandoning his asteroid, he has brushes with a border control-obsessed Joss Ackland or an accounts-fixated Clive Revill among others, all examples of what dullards we become when we reach the age of eighteen, or we do according to this at any rate. This sentimentalisation of our younger years plays well with some audiences, but if you're seeking something clearer-eyed then this was not the place to look, as Gene Wilder especially showed up at his most twinkly to play the fox who must be tamed, and when he does he starts flinging the Prince about the forest with joy, which comes across as inappropriate. More interesting, if no less inappropriate, was Bob Fosse's appearance as the snake, delivering a dance routine entirely lifted many times later on by Michael Jackson: you could understand why the King of Pop found this film appealing to him, and also why that and other reasons could put a lot of people off. An oddity.