Continuing on in the Walt Disney Animation canon, Pinocchio is yet another beloved film in the series, and a truly iconic film: it was another groundbreaking effort, and one that was fun to jump into again.
Studio/year released: Walt Disney Animation, 1940
Another week, another Walt Disney-era classic, and in this case, quite possibly the most famous of the lot. The classic tale of Geppetto’s wooden puppet coming to life still is a vivid, intense movie, with a lot of animated gold spun into it, from ambitious new techniques used on screen, to the vivid, different settings brought to life with vigor.
Pinocchio, despite its legacy and fame in the animated canon, was initially a box-office flop- a fact that would hold true for quite a few films in the early years until Cinderella came along. A 1945 re-release saw greater success for the film though, and via constant re-screening and other related methods, Pinocchio continued to ingrain itself in the public’s conscience. It also was a big award winner back when it was released, and of course, it was where the timeless classic “When You Wish Upon a Star” originated from. To this day, Disney continues to use the piece as a de-facto sort of theme song- and can you blame them? Its lyrics basically embody the ideal creative ideas of the company…or at least, the general enthusiasm of generations of Mouseketeers.
From my point of view, it had been quite a while since I’d seen the movie, and by “a while” I mean probably close to 20 years. You tend to remember some of the more famous details- Pleasure Island, Jiminy Cricket’s role as Pinocchio’s “conscience,” and even Monstro the whale- but the how and why gets fuzzy. In turn, revisiting the film is almost like watching something completely new all over again, and that brings its own excitement. I was pleasantly thrilled by the smooth animation and the sort of mastery and love that was obviously put into this film, showcasing a glimpse again into the brilliance of Walt Disney the animator and producer- which carried over from watching Snow White previously.
One other surprising note I wanted to make was actually on the role of Jiminy Cricket in this film. Famous for being the voice of reason and conscience for Pinocchio (and within Disney-themed things), he’s actually shockingly inefficient and negligent at his job in plenty of ways, at least in this film. He’s still a good chap, but I suppose that’s what happens when a hobo cricket is given the role by a kind blue fairy. Still love the guy though- and he’s a fine narrator as well!
Animation: Classic, hand-drawn 2-D animation. As only the second full-length animated film in history (after Snow White), Pinocchio was ambitious, from portraying various locales and environments, be it Gepetto’s shop crammed full of clocks and other woodworks, to the deadly trap known as Pleasure Island, and even to the bottom of the sea. The film also was cutting edge, experimenting with water effects and even the illusion of 3-D movement within a 2-D picture, which added depth and dynamism to the picture. Even today, the movie looks great, and given that it was still yet another step up from Snow White, a groundbreaking film in its own right, it deserves some major plaudits. 5/5 points.
Characters: The first of Disney’s famous duos originated here- the puppet boy Pinocchio, brought to life by a wish, and Jiminy Cricket, a lucky down-on-his luck cricket who happened to be in the right place at the right time to become the boy’s conscience.
Pinocchio himself is the picture of naive innocence in this film, which is largely a number of trials which sees the good-natured puppet led astray by a variety of shady characters, from the ironically named “Honest” John, a crooked fox involved in black market trading, to Stromboli, a greasy, greedy puppeteer with little concern other than money and food. Despite a variety of hardships, Pinocchio does continue to try and reach his goal of being “a real boy” via certain virtues, and in the end, is successful during his bold rescue plan to save Gepetto from the belly of the whale Monstro, all while learning valuable lessons about life.
On the other hand, Jiminy is an “aw-shucks” kind of guy, and in a way, his often short-sighted and negligent behavior may have in some way embodied Cliff Edwards, his voice actor (and one-time famous singer) who was noted for having issues in his personal life. It is Jiminy who sings the rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star” in this film, and this in turn may be Edwards’ most lasting memento.
Prior to Pinocchio coming to life, Geppetto lived quietly with his two pets, Figaro and Cleo. The duo, a cat and a goldfish, were the first “animal companions” in the Disney library, and served as faithful partners to their master through the film. Figaro in particular had an interesting history- Walt Disney himself took a liking to the kitten to the point that he became Minnie Mouse’s official cat outside of this film, and also made subsequent appearances in other Disney-related productions.
The film also has a variety of villain characters rather than just one fixed big bad, like the Queen from Snow White. This was likely in part to show the variety of temptations and sin that Pinocchio could stumble down, and was embodied in characters like “Honest” John and his cat cohort, Gideon, or Stromboli, the evil puppeteer.
(There’s also poor Lampwick, perhaps the most unfortunate soul in one of these Disney films with his fate. Yikes.) 4.75/5 points.
Story: Simple and straightforward, but with plenty of meat to it, Pinocchio is an adaptation of the children’s story “The Adventures of Pinocchio,” an 1893 story. The Disney version here has a lot of whimsy and color to it, pushing the naive puppet boy into wildly different and harrowing situations, with Jiminy Cricket in tow and a rightfully concerned Geppetto out in the hopes of finding his Pinocchio. Perhaps the most harrowing encounter (aside from the movie’s big climactic escape from Monstro) is Pleasure Island- a place with horrifying implications even today, between the transformation of boys into donkeys, and then said donkeys being shipped off for literal slave labor in salt mines (it does stay this explicitly in the film). It’s a remarkably ambitious sort of moral lesson for a kid like Pinocchio to learn- and one that both leaned towards innovation and a willingness to tell a much richer story as it saw fit. 4.5/5 points.
Themes: The joy of a wish and parenthood. The implications of having a conscience, and the difference between a well-informed one and a naive one. The startling implications of going down the easy path of temptation into harrowing, prickly situations. All these ideas are laid out clearly, but vividly and in an entertaining story even years later, and it still shines through today- the mark of a truly effective film. 4.25/5 points.
Don’t Insult the Viewer: This is an intense film, especially for the youngest viewers if I had to guess. Pleasure Island in particular has some imagery you’d never get away with now in a film, such as Indian tobacco and drinking on screen by minors, but overall the film is superb and a great slice of animation history. 4.5/5 points.
Overall: 23/25 (92%): While Walt Disney was at the helm for quite a few of the early classics in the canon, Pinocchio staked its claim early on as one of the studio’s greatest films; revolutionary in its day, only betrayed by an initially bad box-office performance, and beloved by generations for its iconic characters and keynote song. When you wish upon a star…you might just get a classic film.
Like what you see? Big Pinocchio fan? Enjoying the Disney animation countdown? Leave a comment!