Written by: Chad Jarrah, Special to CC2K
A fan of The Little Prince discovers the trailer for the 1974 movie … and is troubled.
It didn’t take long for me to realize I was reading a great book. This is usually not the case with me. Typically, when I do any recreational reading, the first sixty pages stretch out over the course of many interruptions. Pages one through fifteen are spent between Facebook stalking and Ebay shopping. The next 30 pages get overwhelmed by a string of particularly appealing Golden Girl reruns (I’m sorry. I think Blanche is hot.) With pages 45 through 60, a slow rhythm of the book’s story begins calming my distractable nature, and by the 60th page I’m cruising. With The Little Prince things were different.
I first read Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic tale of a young prince’s enlightening adventures, in my junior year of high school. It was part of the curriculum for an English class assignment and, needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled. Why would I want to waste my time reading a dumb book when I could spend it staring at pretty girls I had no intention of talking to? Yes, the book was thin and easy to read but so was Tanya DeMarco – she sat next to me In English class and made no secret of her willingness to invite guys over to “study” when her parents weren’t home. How could The Little Prince compete with that?
Despite my reluctance to read, study hall the following period was devoid of any distractions to keep me from the book. With forty-five minutes to kill and a sigh of defeat, I opened the stained and worn book and began reading. For lack of a gayer word, I was enchanted. I took to the book’s profound points about life and human nature immediately and finished the story by the end of the forty-five minute period. Simply put — it was beautiful.
I recently re-read the book and, although many years have passed since I became one of the few rejected by Tanya, my feelings for The Little Prince have remained unchanged. It still has a universal appeal for both adults and children alike. It’s no wonder Exupéry’s work is one of the world’s most popular books, claiming eighty million book sales worldwide. After I first read the book in high school, I thought for days. It was the first time I ever read a book that made me think. The Red Badge of Courage made me sleepy and Animal Farm made me hungry for bacon, but The Little Prince made me think. I thought about what really mattered in life – being good and honest, responsible and selfless. Although these thoughts eventually passed in favor of the search for adolescent popularity, the book had made a long-lasting effect on me that I took into adulthood. When I read The Little Prince the second time, my thoughts took a different form. For some reason, this time I marveled at the book’s cinematic potential. The book could reach an even wider audience if it was ever made into a movie, touching the souls and opening the minds of countless others. Even though I was usually weary about movies based on books, I was curious how well this story could be brought to life in the right director’s hands. On a whim, I googled the possibility.
I was surprised to find that it had already been done. In 1974, Stanley Donen directed the film version and his work resulted in two Oscar nominations. Not bad. As my curiosity grew, so did my research. I wanted to see what the characters looked like and how the book’s important message was delivered; what a movie industry, devoid of CGI effects, could have on the film. And would the movie version leave me with the same profound meditative state the book left me with back in high school?
I’ve often kicked myself for never having signed up for a Netflix account — now more than ever did I feel the burn of the video store hunt. The movie was nowhere to be found within a twenty-five mile radius of my hometown. In most cases, the high school students employed by the stores had never even heard of the book. I could easily buy an old copy on Ebay, but shipping took days and I wanted something now. In the state of mind I was in, I settled for what I could get and quickly found the old movie trailer online. I was excited and curious when I clicked the play button, with an optimism that radiated from the books beautiful message. Here it is:
Four minutes and 26 seconds later that had all changed. Now I felt disappointed… confused…even dirty. What the hell was this pile of shit!? Granted, I hadn’t seen the movie in its entirety to make for a more valued opinion, but after the preview, I didn’t think I wanted to. It was creepy and weird; the characters were all off-putting. The trailer wasn’t even video footage — just a mash up of photos depicting scary adults and a tired little boy singing together. How could this have happened? I thought of the book and how great it was; about the trailer and how horribly wrong it was. I just couldn’t get over it. The differences were endless and I made it a point to compare them as best I could.
The book opened with an explanation of the differences between children and grown-ups. The author does this effectively by showing the reader his drawing as a six-year-old boy and describing the responses he received when he showed it to adults. The grown-ups couldn’t figure out what the drawing was or judged the picture for its lack of accuracy and appeal. They just didn’t get it. By the end of the third page my appreciation for the innocence and purity of children had greatly increased.
The trailer opened with some out of place jazz-type percussion instrumentals and a picture of what the earth may have looked like if its design was based on the board game Risk. The Little Prince is shown on his planet before he flies through the air. By all accounts, the film version of the boy is pretty accurate to Exupéry’s description and illustration of him. From the clothes on his back to the hair on his head, the physical character portrayal is spot on with one exception: I want to hug the book version and body slam the movie version. In the trailer, the kid rocks a mean afro (close to an early CC Deville) and his little military suit looked like a big blue dress. Was he supposed to be a prince or an extra from Little House on the Prairie? I couldn’t help it but I just laughed when I saw the boy. Not a good sign.
As I continued to read, the prince visited nearby planets where, among others, he comes across a king, a businessman and a lamplighter. He learns about the pitfalls of adulthood like conceit, pride and foolishness. Once on Earth, the Little Prince meets the pilot, the fox and the snake. The boy befriends the pilot, opening the aviator’s eyes to the true importance of life. He discusses human nature with the fox, who represents ‘good,’ and the snake, who represents ‘evil.’ The fox imparts words of wisdom to his new friend, like: “It is the time you have spent with your rose that makes your rose so important.” Beautiful.
The trailer continued to baffle me. The characters were also introduced and each one was scarier than the next. Gene Wilder plays the fox, and although he may have been good in this role, he is and always will be Willy Wonka to me. I couldn’t make the switch from candy tycoon to forest creature no matter how much I concentrated. Tony and Academy Award winning director and choreographer Bob Fosse gives his artistic interpretation of the snake and does so as a flamboyant biker. He is wearing tight black leather pants, black ballet shoes and sunglasses that all scream the words, ‘don’t talk to strangers.’ The pilot is also introduced as a man never to be left alone with children. At 00:36 seconds a scary shot of the man popped up leaving one distinct question imprinted on my brain: how many human heads does he have crammed in his freezer?
The book ended with the death of the Little Prince as the snake takes the boy’s life with a bite. The prince feels this is the only way he can return to his planet to see his beloved friend, the rose. He is adamant with this decision and, although the pilot pleads with the boy who is even brought to tears, his mind his made up. The love for his lonely flower drives him to this act of selflessness.
The trailer ends as the screen goes black. I take a deep breath of relief knowing that I don’t have to torture myself any further by watching this travesty to literature, but realize that there is still one and half minutes more of something to come. The trailer stays black and continues as a swooning song from the film floods my ears along with the self-promoting words of the narrator: “The Little Prince: The entertainment that loves a lot and lives a lot, and gives and gives and gives a lot,” and “The Little Prince: An experience you and the child inside will never forget.” At 4:26 the trailer ends. My pain is finally eased.
I walked away from this trailer with a distinct and resounding loyalty for books over films adapted from them. I always felt a movie could never do a good book justice and The Little Prince only reinforced this feeling. Everything about this movie felt wrong and I gripped my copy of the book a bit tighter as I closed out the trailer I would never watch again. I went over the differences between the two versions again and again in my head hoping to find some common thread between them; anything that would at least tie them together in some way for the purpose of this review. One was awesome and the other sucked. One was popular and the other no one cared about. It seemed there was nothing. Racking my brains to figure this out, I finally found what I needed from one of the final statements the narrator of the trailer made. Like the book, the film really does give and give and give a lot. It gives a lot of heartburn, confusion, nausea, itchy watery eyes, heart palpitations, angry outbursts, impotence, burning while you pee, cottonmouth…