Directed By: Ben Sharpsteen & Hamilton Luske (Supervising)
Produced By: Walt Disney
Based On: The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi (1883)
Premiered On: February 9, 1940
Distribution By: RKO Radio Pictures
The story of Pinocchio is one that is arguably one of the more reclusive amongst the original Disney films insomuch that it is not Pinocchio himself but rather his co-star that has achieved worldwide renown several times over. I suppose that one of the main reasons this is so is strictly for the fact that despite being one of the earlier Disney animated films and one that most children almost instantly recognize, Pinocchio is one of the rarely seen Disney films on television or even DVD. For despite how the story goes, Pinocchio is a film that does toe the line for childhood appropriateness in our modern era whence compared to what was the common standard back when it was first released.
Our tale begins with the true star of the show, one Jiminy Cricket, who after finishing the film’s opening song, narrates the story to us of a man named Geppetto and the little wooden puppet he names Pinocchio. Before going to bed, Geppetto wishes upon a star that Pinocchio may become a real boy, a real son, to him and in the night, his wish is granted by the Blue Fairy though only a small portion of it. For though she brings Pinocchio to life, she does not immediately turn him into a real boy. Oh no, Pinocchio has to earn the right to be flesh and blood by proving that he can be brave, truthful, and unselfish. She even goes so far as to assign Jiminy Cricket the task of being the boy’s conscience, a task that proves far more trouble than its worth even at the best of times.
Pinocchio, being all of a day old, is unbelievably naïve and is easily led astray not once but twice by the likes of the fox named Honest John and his mute feline compatriot Gideon. The first time, the two trick Pinocchio into skipping school and going into the life of entertainment by way of the traveling puppeteer Stromboli. At first, the life of entertaining the masses appeals to Pinocchio but the moment he tries to go home, Stromboli snatches him up and locks him into a birdcage. Though Jiminy tries to free him, it’s the Blue Fairy who comes to the rescue once more though she questions Pinocchio as to how he got there.
This leads to one of the more funnier moments in the film when Pinocchio tries, and fails rather spectacularly, at lying as each lie he makes causes his nose to grow and even sprout out a birds’ nest. Though Jiminy convinces the Blue Fairy to give Pinocchio another chance, she warns that a boy who won’t boy might as well be made of wood.
Unfortunately, as I’ve said previously, Pinocchio once more runs into the dastardly pair who tricks him into going on a vacation to a place known simply as Pleasure Island. Seeing as I’ve spoken more than my fair share of the Coachman and what he does, I’ll skip ahead a bit to the climax of the film, namely the monstrous whale aptly named Monstro, who has swallowed Geppetto when the poor man was out searching for Pinocchio.
The little puppet manages to reunite with his father and together the two come up with a daring plan to escape the ginormous whale. The plan succeeds but at the cost of Pinocchio’s life. Returned home and laid upon the bed he had yet to sleep upon himself, Geppetto and company mourn for the little puppet only to find themselves celebrating the life of a newly born boy.
The Blue Fairy, having found Pinocchio to be brave, truthful, and unselfish, had made him into a real boy and bestows upon Jiminy Cricket a solid gold medal declaring him an official conscience to all whom have the ears to listen and a mind to reason.
As I’ve said previously, this is not entirely a film for really young audiences. Aside from the horrific imagery of watching a boy being turned into a donkey there are a few choice words and imagery that while not inherently bad back in the day… Are not quite so nowadays. While it was a common phrase, the term “jackass” is now more of a cussing word than an actual reference to donkeys and/or mules. That and… well, let me speak of the song that I feel best represents the film overall.
See, as popular as the song “When You Wish Upon a Star” is, I’ve found that song in particular is more befitting of Disney as a whole rather than just this film. In all honesty, it’s the one and only song that immediately comes to mind whenever I think of such places as the Magic Kingdom or Disneyland and, more often than not, it is the very song that they place during most of their commercials too.
As such, my own personal choice for the song that best describes Pinocchio is his own song, “I’ve Got No Strings On Me.” Aside from being made into a far too creepily sung rendition in a recent superhero film, the song does sum up everything that Pinocchio is and then some, particularly in his attempts at being a good, little boy and his failings at this.
And as you can see there are a few moments, particularly the scene with the dancing puppets near the end, where some parents/adults would argue it to be a bit… promiscuous. Me, myself, personally however, I’m afraid that whole scene flew right over my head as a kid as I’m sure it will for most kids nowadays too. In this early time of a new century, children are far more desensitized to these sorts of things with most modern cartoons and television shows making light of things that back in the time of Pinocchio would be considered as scandalous. If I recall correctly, the idea of a television show having a married couple in the same bed was one such example.
More to the point, Jiminy’s reaction to the can-can puppets will forever be one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen the little cricket do, bar none.
As to the differences between the film and the original book… I shan’t lie, there’s quite a lot of differences mainly for the fact that Pinocchio, at least in the book mind you, is far more trouble than he’s worth. On his first moment of life, Pinocchio not only runs out on Geppetto but acts in such a way that a Carbiniere, the military police of Italy, thinks him an abused child and has Geppetto arrested. That’s just one of the many differences mind you and one of the more tamed ones to boot. Honest John and Gideon for example not only attempt to rob Pinocchio in the original story, but actually try to hang him via noose after Pinocchio manages to bite off Gideon’s paw.
Heck, even Pinocchio’s happily ever after is a bit dark as rather than having his puppet body be turned into a real boy, his real body materializes on a nearby bed where he wakes up to find his original puppet body left behind, lying lifelessly on a chair. That’s… so unbelievably creepy. I mean, I’m glad for Pinocchio and all but what would you do with the puppet body at that point considering all that it went through and all that it endured? Bury it somewhere far and away? Burn it and scatter the ashes to the four winds? I don’t know and frankly, I don’t want to.
Now, I’m sure a good many of you are thinking to yourselves ah, well, that can’t possibly get any worse than that can it? Oh no, it most certainly can, my dear readers. For you see, I had skipped ahead a bit in the original story, bypassing one scene in particular that well and truly disturbs me more than any other. On the night of Geppetto’s arrest, Pinocchio returns home and there he accidentally kills a certain talking cricket. A certain talking cricket whose spirit then continues to haunt Pinocchio throughout the rest of his adventures, offering advice and warning whenever possible.
… Yeah, so moving on to happier things. For all the magic that is Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket, I can’t really give this film anything more than three out of five stars at best. It’s not a bad story and it’s certainly one worth watching at least once, but it isn’t one I’d consider putting atop a golden pedestal by any means.