PARIS - Where Walt Disney and others failed, the heirs of Antoine de Saint-Exupery have finally succeeded in bringing the French aviator's world-famous blonde Little Prince to the small screen.
The 52-episode animated series of the best-selling ever French book, first published in English in 1943 and in French only three years later, is to be shown in 80 countries, with a first taste on French television at Christmas.
"Send me word that he has come back," which takes its name from the final words of Saint-Exupery's space-odyssey, sees the diminutive hero travel around 24 planets in a bid to save the universe from a snake.
The series will be shown around the world, from Australia to Japan, where a Little Prince museum receives 400,000 visitors a year.
Over 134 million copies of the poetic and philosophical book have been sold around the world, where it has been translated into 220 languages and dialects.
"Adapting the Little Prince has been very difficult because it's at once a small book and a Pandora's box, very simple and very deep," says the series' co-author, Alexandre de la Patelliere.
Rather than copy the book's simple style, the series seeks to help the prince escape the printed page, throwing him into a stylised universe that is more accessible for 21st-century children.
And whereas the original story is told by an adult narrator, the new series is told by the prince himself.
The heirs of Saint-Exupery, who died mysteriously during a reconnaissance mission in 1944 and never saw his book published in French, wanted to "bring the Little Prince's message to 21st-century children through new media, with a different language," says producer Aton Soumache.
"Taking the plunge was painful," he says.
Francois d'Agay, who represents Saint-Exupery's heirs, says that "it was a difficult wish because the work is impalpable."
He says that Walt Disney tried to animate the Little Prince, but the result was "flat and lifeless".
"We needed a solution: get the Little Prince out of his book while preserving the spirit," he says, adding that the heirs were won over by the first images from the series.
The protagonist is modelled in three dimensions, his eyes have been opened wider and coloured blue. The fox has become his witty and sometimes sulky companion and the snake's humour is dark.
The character is romantic and modern. His proximity to nature has been developed, making him an "ambassador of sustainable development."
In contrast to 1946, the producer says, when the baobab trees featured on one of the book's many planets were supposed to represent totalitarianism.
More than 450 people worked on the project for three years, with a budget of more than 18 million euros (25 million dollars).
Despite criticism that the lovable prince has been made to look Japanese, another administrator of Saint-Exupery's estate, Oliver d'Agay, says: "I'm not worried the work will be lost because it's stainless."
"It's beyond us. It won't necessarily please adults but what's important is that it speaks to children," he said.