Moon Pilot is a 98 minute Technicolor science fiction satirical comedy released in 1962 by Buena Vista Distribution. Based on Robert Buckner's 1960 novel Starfire, it was directed by James Neilson and reflects Disney's interest in America's early space program during the John F. Kennedy era.
Astronaut Capt. Richmond Talbot inadvertently volunteers to make the first manned flight around the moon. He is ordered to keep the upcoming moon flight a secret, even from his family. Due to the secrecy of the mission, he is put under the watchful protection of various security agencies.
Despite all the precautions, Talbot is approached by Lyrae, a beautiful, mysterious “foreign” girl who seems to know all about the astronaut's mission and warns him about possible defects in his spacecraft. Comedy ensues when the various agencies assume she is a foreign spy.
Eventually, Lyrae reveals to Talbot that she is a friendly alien from planet Beta Lyrae and she wants to offer him a special formula that will safeguard his rocket. Enchanted by the girl, Talbot sneaks away from the FBI, NASA, and CIA agents who have been guarding him to spend more time with Lyrae. Eventually, when his rocket is launched, Talbot discovers that Lyrae has stowed away. The two sing a romantic song about Beta Lyrae while mission control expresses confusion over the bizarre transmissions.
Disney vs. The FBI
The Federal Bureau of Investigation protested to Walt Disney about their portrayal in the film. First, they objected to an FBI Agent guarding an astronaut, as that was not a Bureau function. Disney changed the character into a Federal Security Officer. Once the film was released, the FBI complained the federal agent was portrayed in "the most slapstick and uncomplimentary manner".
Robert Buckner's novel Starfire had been serialized in The Saturday Evening Post and came to the attention of Disney. The screenplay took a satirical view of the United States Government, with someone chiding a politician with "Didn't you read our 'Simple Science for Senators'"? The same characters Disney deified in their Man in Space series were gently ridiculed in the film.
For his leading man, Disney chose Tom Tryon who had been starring in Texas John Slaughter on television, but for the space female, Disney chose Dany Saval then touted as the "new Brigitte Bardot" for her American debut. He surrounded his two young stars with many experienced actors and a chimp for children. Disney's songwriters the Sherman brothers contributed several songs to the film with Saval recording The Seven Moons of Beta Lyrae that was released on a record with Annette's The Crazy Place in Outer Space.
The film debuted at New York's famous Radio City Music Hall as their Easter holiday attraction. Also on the program was Disneyland, U.S.A., a live stage show co-produced by the Disney team that featured elements and characters from the famed theme park in Anaheim, California.
Sally Field makes her film debut as one of the beatnik girls in the lineup.