Review by KC Carlson
First released in 1940, Pinocchio was Walt Disney’s second full-length animated film, and it has since been acclaimed many times over as one of the best animated movies of all-time and as Disney’s Masterpiece. Who am I to argue with that?
If you somehow don’t already know, it’s the story of a little wooden puppet named Pinocchio, carved by hand by the elderly and lonely toymaker Geppetto. After Geppetto wishes on a falling star, Pinocchio is given life by the Blue Fairy and has the opportunity to become a real boy if he can become brave, truthful, and unselfish. Many obstacles present themselves to prevent this from happening, but Pinocchio has the assistance of Jiminy Cricket, who is appointed by the Blue Fairy to be the wooden-headed boy’s conscience.
The film is narrated by Jiminy Cricket (who looks more like a little green bald man in a tuxedo than a cricket), the real focal point of the film and one of the greatest characters in all animation. He does such a good job in this movie that he is ultimately rewarded by becoming the conscience for virtually every little girl and boy on the planet for the next several decades (at least until Walt died and the Disney Company didn’t have much use for consciences anymore). Currently, Jiminy is the narrator for the nightly “Wishes” fireworks extravaganza at some of the Disney theme parks, where even a 70-year-old cricket can still bring a tear to your eye.
After 70 years, it’s hard to put into perspective what a quantum leap in quality Pinocchio was in the field of animation. Less than 10 years earlier, much artwork and animation, as well as sound, were rudimentary or crude and largely unappealing. A major confluence of talent, including many of the very best animators from the 1930s, teamed with a bunch of young whippersnappers (some of whom would become Disney’s legendary Nine Old Men) to produce one of the most amazing and still enduring animated features in history.
Yet, for all its acclaim and honors, Pinocchio is a film of small moments — little bits of character animation, some great musical moments, or the sheer awesomeness of seeing some new breakthrough in the technology of animation (the water sequences are especially eye-popping). Most of my favorite moments are Jiminy’s: His playing along with the music box band, his dancing, his “can-do” personality in general. Although he’s quite the ladies man while dancing with the music box girl, he’s really shy around the Blue Fairy.
The design and animation of Geppeto’s cuckoo clocks is amazing and amusing at the same time, as is the distorted Pinocchio seen through Figaro’s fish bowl. The characters are so well crafted and developed that you don’t even notice the occasional lapse of logic in the story — as when Jiminy is seemingly “drowning” while trapped in the bubble, yet seemingly fine after his escape — even though he’s at at the bottom of the ocean!
There are also some disturbing sequences, such as the creepy transformation scenes on Pleasure Island, where the little boys become what they are after acting like asses. The small 3 or 4 second shot of the puppet-like Pinocchio’s body dancing around in a circle while his head remains still and staring blankly ahead always creeps me out, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be cute! (If you watch everything on this two-disc set – including all the trailers – you’ll see this snippet about 10 times! Yikes!)
There are lot of great Bonus Features on the Platinum 2-disc Edition (and I assume on the Blu-ray) including “No Strings Attached,” a 56-minute documentary on the making of Pinocchio. This feature is extremely informative and goes a long way to back up the “masterpiece” tag that accompanies the film. Animation buffs will find this extremely informative, as the feature discuses in detail all the great animators who worked on this film and which characters or sequences they did.
There’s also a detailed discussion on the voice talent for the film, including the answer to the trivia question of where the only voice work that Mel Blanc did for Disney appears. Dozens of film/animation historians and past and present Disney staff discuss the differences between the original story and the Disney version, the development of the characters, and the importance of effects animation (including archive footage of many of the Nine Old Men). Sound and music is also singled out for excellence and examined in-depth. I was amazed to learn that the incredible score for the film was not highly regarded in its day, despite winning the Oscar for best score. Tech-heads will love the discussion of the development of the multi-plane camera for use in the film.
Also included are over 10 minutes of deleted scenes and a deleted (unused?) song “Honest John”, although no animation or even storyboards are featured for it. There seems to be some debate that the song was actually written and published after the film’s release based on the film’s popularity, and the lack of film elements here may back that up.
“The Sweatbox” is a 6-minute doc about the Disney storyboard process and review, with a kinda cheesy re-creation of an actual story session. “Walt” keeps to the shadows in this, making the whole thing a little more creepy than what they probably intended.
However, “Gepettos Then and Now” is worth the price of springing for the Special Edition. It’s an 11-minute feature about toys and their toymakers, from ancient dolls and hand carved marionettes to modern-day robots and a voice-activated Wall-E toy. (I want one.) Toymakers and artists from around the world are interviewed, each of them devoted to the idea of making art for children that stimulates their imagination.
There’s also some live-action reference footage that was used in the production of Pinocchio. Plus, there are the usual sketch galleries and promotional material, including the original 1939 preview trailer and two others used for re-release engagements. There’s a puzzle game for the kids, featuring six different puzzles that need to be completed to help finish Gepetto’s newest toy. It’s fairly challenging, but easy to use.
On the main disc, there are even more Bonus Features, including a feature-length commentary by film historians Leonard Maltin and J.B. Kaufman and animator/director Eric Goldberg, which incorporates some archival audio clips from some of the people who actually worked on the film. There’s also an on-screen trivia track called Pinocchio’s Matter of Facts.
There’s the usual Disney Song Selection, which takes you directly to the songs in the film, as well as providing (optional) lyrics. Slightly less useful is the obligatory Disney music video by Meaghan Jette Martin for “When You Wish Upon a Star”, the Oscar-winning song that for many years was Disney’s anthem. Martin is your typical Disney teen-girl singer with a doll-like face that makes her eerily perfect for a Pinocchio song. There’s actually a quick-cut of a close-up of of her face that blends perfectly into a similar shot of Pinocchio early in the video. The current Disney music Svengalis have updated the song with an added beatbox groove and a whispery counter-melody. Martin sings the chorus like she was playing a xylophone – one staccato note at a time – as well as being backed up by a vocoder. Your kids will probably love it. Look for it on heavy rotation on the Disney Channel or used for a cheerleader routine at the next high school basketball game.
My favorite bit of trivia from the Bonus Features is a great anecdote about Walt Disney. While giving his acceptance speech for the special Academy Award he received for his previous film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (actually 7 dwarf-sized Oscars, with one stardard-sized one), it was said that he told the story of the then in-production Pinocchio, “holding the glamorous audience spellbound for 25 minutes!” And you thought today’s Oscar acceptance speeches were long!