1940's, a real boy, adaptation, animated, animated feature, animated movie, animated movie review, animation, anthropomorphic, anthropomorphic animal, anthropomorphic animals, Bill Tytla, Blue Fairy, Carlo Collodi, children's story, children’s book, Christian Rub, classic, classic disney, classic Hollywood, cleo, Cliff Edwards, coachman, conscience, cricket, Dick Jones, Dickie Jones, Disney, disney animated, disney animated feature, disney animated movie, disney animation, disney golden age, disney review, donkey, donkey scene, donkey transformation, donkeys, figaro, foulfellow, fox and cat, Frank Churchill, Frank Thomas, Fred Moore, Gepetto, giant whale, gideon, Give A Little Whistle, golden age of Hollywood, hand drawn animation, Hi Fiddle Dee Dee, honest john, I've Got No Strings, italy, j. worthington foulfellow, jiminy cricket, Joe Grant, John Lounsbury, lampwick, Little Wooden Head, marionette, Mel Blanc, Milt Kahl, monstro, nine old men, Pinocchio, pleasure island, puppet, puppet show, puppeteers, puppets, real boy, star, stromboli, swallowed by a whale, traditional animation, transformation, Turn On The Old Music Box, Ukelele Ike, Vladimir Tytla, Walt Disney, Walter Catlett, whale, whale chase, When You Wish Upon a Star, wishing star, Wolfgang Reitherman, woodcarver, Woolie Reitherman
“When You Wish Upon A Star
Makes No Difference Who You Are
Anything Your Heart Desires
Will Come To You…”
In my last review, I compared Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Star Wars; a blockbuster that captivated audiences, revolutionized filmmaking, and was an all-around fun adventure with a likable cast. Well if Snow White is Disney’s Star Wars – before Disney owned Lucasfilm, I mean – then Pinocchio is undoubtedly Disney’s Empire Strikes Back: refined visuals, more complex storytelling and characters, and much, MUCH darker.
The success of Snow White marked the beginning of big things for Disney animation. The sizable influx of cash meant Walt could build a bigger studio, hire more staff, and give his projects a noticeably larger budget. The question is, where to go from here? What movie could possibly follow the fairest one of all? Investors were clamoring for a sequel and the idea was toyed with for a time, but Walt was not a one-trick pony. Then animator Norm Ferguson brought a copy of Carlo Collodi’s Le avventuri di Pinocchio to Walt’s attention. Walt and a few of his key guys had attended a performance of Yasha Frank’s successful staging of Pinocchio prior to Snow White’s release and noted the story had possibilities for adaptation – plenty of spectacle, cute comic relief critters, etc. Seeing that book sparked Walt’s memory; after reading it, he intended to make Pinocchio his third animated venture behind the upcoming Bambi. But when that movie ran into production troubles, Pinocchio was bumped up to its place. Does it measure up to Snow White, though? Let’s find out.
The credits roll over the Oscar-winning Disney anthem, “When You Wish Upon a Star”. We see the singer is one Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards) sitting in a library which includes Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan.
I didn’t get to say this in my Snow White review but at one point the dwarfs cry out “Jiminy crickets!” which used to confuse me. I wondered if the dwarfs knew Jiminy Cricket and why were they saying his name. It’s actually a popular expression of surprise, disbelief or anger from back in the day (replace it with a certain holy name bearing the same initials and you get the same albeit profane result).
Jiminy ends his song and tells the audience he used to not believe anything about wishing on stars. He proceeds to share what changed his mind. The camera pans up to the illustration in Jiminy’s book where the stars are shining their brightest, then over, down, and through a rustic Italian village, all in one take.
Compare Snow White to any Silly Symphony that came out a few years prior and you can immediately spot the leap in quality. Then compare Pinocchio to Snow White and there’s an even bigger difference. It’s easy to assume that ten years have passed instead of only three. Of course, Pinocchio had more financial allowance to do as Walt pleased as well as an entire team of experienced artisans and storytellers looking to take it up a notch. For example, each of Figaro the kitten’s whiskers were individually airbrushed onto every cel. And look at the story: Snow White had its filler moments that wouldn’t feel out of place in a regular early Disney short, but in Pinocchio, not a single story beat and song feels out of place.
Then there’s the look of the film, headed by beloved children’s book illustrator Gustaf Tenggren and cartoonist Albert Hurter. They left a tangible thumbprint on Snow White, mainly with the Seven Dwarfs’ cottage and its charming woodcarvings, but Pinocchio is wholly their movie. The amount of detail and life given to the most minute background objects, particularly in Gepetto’s workshop, is stunning. The movie truly looks like a storybook come to life.
Jiminy, here a homeless bum, comes across Gepetto’s residence and hops on over in a breathtaking example of the multiplane camera utilized to its best. Details fade sharply in and out of focus as his POV draws closer to the little house.
Sensing no one’s there, Jiminy takes the Snow White approach and sneaks in for the night. As he makes himself at home, lovable befuddled old Gepetto comes downstairs with Figaro and puts the finishing touches on a well-crafted marionette, whom he christens Pinocchio. He takes him for a test run around the cottage singing the cute little tune “Little Wooden Head”. For a sweet song it deftly avoids falling into the pit of sentimentality, something Walt intentionally wanted to steer clear from. The version with extra lyrics cut for that reason were later featured on the Disney Sing-Alongs, which I have fond memories of.
After Gepetto’s many colorful clocks alert him to the time (they built working models to base the animation on and I want ALL of them), he gets ready for bed along with Figaro and his goldfish Cleo. I love how these two play off each other, particularly Figaro, who has the personality of a lovable if spoiled child. He reminds me of my own cat. Plus it makes me happy to see a good example of an animated feline who isn’t portrayed as evil or even self-absorbed. They’re so rare.
In the moments before falling asleep Gepetto wishes upon the Wishing Star that Pinocchio was a real boy he could call his son. Jiminy gives the best reply: “A very lovely thought…but not at all practical.”
After a hilarious albeit far too relatable sequence where Jiminy is kept awake by the incessant clock ticking and snoring all around the workshop, his sleep is further deprived by a shining light coming through the window. The light turns out to be the spirit of the Wishing Star, the Blue Fairy. She overheard Gepetto’s wish and endeavors to grant it as a reward for all the happiness he’s given to others over the years. With a wave of her wand, Pinocchio awakens and comes to life.
I’ve seen a few other adaptations of Pinocchio and they’re all right, but most of them fall into the trap that Disney was trying to avoid with their main character. You see in the original story, Pinocchio was, to put it mildly, a little bastard. He sought out trouble for trouble’s sake and had fun at the expense of others when he wasn’t busy being an unlikable idiot. Disney knew that was the first thing that had to change in order to make audiences sympathetic towards him. So they turned Pinocchio into a wide-eyed innocent with his ignorance and poor decision-making stemming from the fact that he was literally born yesterday. That change even shows through the design phase as he went from a lanky Charlie McCarthy knockoff to a more realized, softer, boyish figure reflecting his burgeoning humanity.
Adding to the enchantment of this scene, Pinocchio’s very first lines encapsulates the magic and history of cinema – “I can move…I can talk…I can walk!” It’s no surprise that Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston’s renowned book on animation, The Illusion of Life, has Pinocchio on the cover.
The Blue Fairy explains that Pinocchio must prove himself brave, truthful and unselfish in order to become a real boy. Jiminy makes himself known after a few snarky asides and the Blue Fairy offers to make him Pinocchio’s conscience in order to help the puppet on his journey. What I find funny is in most Disney media Jiminy is depicted as always on the straight and narrow, even a bit of a fuddy-duddy when flanderization kicks in. But in his own movie he’s sassy, a smart-aleck, and has an eye for the ladies. The kicker is he doesn’t accept the conscience gig out of moral obligation but because he’s taken in by how hot the Blue Fairy is.
The Blue Fairy gives Jiminy some nice new duds and promises an official gold badge if he succeeds in his mission. She departs and Jiminy sits Pinocchio down to explain the difference between right and wrong. It doesn’t quite sink in, so he tells him to just whistle for him if he needs help, which segues into our next song “Give a Little Whistle”. It’s a fun jazzy tune that gives Edwards more time to show off his vocals. Then Pinocchio falls off the table and wakes Gepetto. Thinking it’s robbers, he sneaks through the house gun in hand wait WHAT?!
All right, I know I didn’t make that big a deal when it came to the Scarecrow handling a firearm, but I can’t pass up mentioning this part. At least in The Wizard of Oz the Scarecrow never did anything with his gun. But for all intents and purposes, this kindly old man who seemed completely harmless until now is suddenly packing heat. You could argue that he might just make a big show about having a weapon in order to scare away potential intruders, but the gun does go off in that scene so I’m convinced Gepetto is always ready to go all Second Amendment on your ass the moment he feels threatened. I just can’t help but laugh at that.
Once Gepetto finds Pinocchio and realizes it’s not the Nyquil talking, he accepts him as his own and the two happily dance the night away – or at least until Pinocchio’s curiosity is aroused by a candle and he tries to figure out how it works.
Thankfully putting out the fire goes over much better here than in the book, where Pinocchio gets both his legs burned off. I’m not gonna go back and forth comparing the book and film because the differences are vast enough already, but let me say if you think the movie is dark, then the book takes it up to eleven. The movie makes the darkness work by taking the moments that matter and tying them together into one coherent narrative, while the original is just a series of unrelated vignettes where Pinocchio does something terrible and is then horribly punished for it in order to scare children into behaving. Point – Disney.
Gepetto figures it’s about time they hit the hay, though Pinocchio’s constant curious questions about attending school the following day further delays his rest.
Morning comes and with it…
Pinocchio is eager to join the throng of children merrily on their way to school, and after Gepetto gives him his books and the customary apple for the teacher, he says goodbye and skips on his way alone. Ah, the days before helicopter parenting.
But it’s not long before Pinocchio crosses paths with a rather dubious duo, a fox named J. Worthington Foulfellow (aka Honest John) and a cat named Gideon. These two are another example of how great the characters in this movie are, especially on the comedic side. Foulfellow’s the always scheming opportunist who winds up in over his head, Gideon’s the dumb lackey, and their best moments will have you believing they migrated from a Warner Brothers cartoon. Foulfellow is also voiced by Walter Catlett, who’s –
…As I was saying, Catlett and most of the voice cast have all but fallen into obscurity by today’s standards, but back in the day they had star power. Disney signing them on was a masterstroke since it gave the movie a bit of a boost in the public eye while still giving good roles to good character actors. Thankfully he also didn’t put them under contract to give up acting forever to maintain the illusion (COUGHADRIANACASSELOTTICOUGH). This might as well make Pinocchio the first animated movie to hire celebrities for voices, not Aladdin. Pretty neat, though it worries me that decades down the line the voices of Aladdin will meet the same fate and people will have forgotten the incredible, once in a lifetime spark that was Robin Williams. Thankfully Disney would never forget just who it was that made the Genie so great –
Speaking of sweeping voices under the rug, Gideon had a similar voice change to Dopey, in that he went from speaking to not at all, even though all his dialogue was already recorded by none other than the voice of the Looney Tunes, Mel Blanc. In the end all that remained was a single hiccup, which sadly makes it the only Disney thing Mel has lent his considerable talents to.
Seeing the puppet master Stromboli is back in town with his marionette show and that Pinocchio is a puppet who can somehow move without strings, Foulfellow devises a plan to bring the two together and profit.
Yeah, this is a part of the movie that’s easy to ignore unless you begin to think about it. I’d suggest this world is like Narnia where there are two kinds of animals – the ones who can speak and think for themselves after being blessed by Aslan, and the average ones who weren’t – but Figaro and Cleo are pretty darn intelligent even if they don’t talk or wear spats. Just another moment where you have to take the MST3K Mantra in stride, I guess.
Foulfellow and Gideon ingratiate themselves with Pinocchio and convince the gullible puppet that show business is worth pursuing more than education with “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee”, which holds the distinction of being the very first Disney villain song. We always associate a track from that category with something like “Poor Unfortunate Souls” or “Hellfire”, but it’s funny how this upbeat marching tune technically predates them all. We also follow Gideon, Foulfellow and Pinocchio as they merrily parade through the streets in one unbroken overhead shot which seems rudimentary by today’s CGI standards but ahhhjbwllwyskvllmovieprettyyyy….
Jiminy runs out of the house late thanks to oversleeping and isn’t pleased with the company he finds Pinocchio keeping. He manages to sidetrack the crooks and pulls Pinocchio aside to warn him about the temptations they represent. And now is a good time to mention something about Pinocchio (the movie, not the character) that maybe some of you have picked up on through the years. Normally I’d recommend the Three CommentEARs’ Pinocchio commentary I appeared in except that I feel uncomfortable going back to it for a number of reasons, so instead I’ll do my best to sum it up myself:
Pinocchio is Disney’s most religious movie. And yes I know The Hunchback of Notre Dame seems like the most obvious choice, but study Pinocchio piece by piece and you’ll find it’s one big holy allegory for the journey and redemption of humanity. The Blue Fairy, who resembles the Virgin Mary, singlehandedly brings Pinocchio into the world. People like to complain about why the Blue Fairy doesn’t just turn Pinocchio into a real boy from the start in the same way others wonder why God doesn’t come down and solve all their problems if they believe and pray hard enough. But here’s the thing – all that wishing and thoughts and prayers can only take you so far. That faith is the starting point, but those willing to work for it have to show they are capable and deserving of their wishes. Now tasked with proving himself worthy of the gift of life, Pinocchio spends much of the film encountering villains representing the pitfalls of mankind, mainly greed, all while searching for his Father. Then after sacrificing himself to save him, he is reborn into a new life. To further prove my point, some parts of Europe consider “When You Wish Upon a Star” a Christmas song because they view the titular celestial body as the Star of Bethlehem.
While almost any religion can apply to this interpretation, it holds the most weight when placed side-by-side with Christianity/Catholicism, and that’s not just my upbringing talking. Most miraculously, Pinocchio pulls it all off without even dropping a single overtly theological reference into the picture. That alone makes it better than the entire PureFlix catalogue – then again any movie is preferable to 90 minutes of Kirk Cameron expounding his warped dogma so it’s not exactly a difficult feat.
Poor Jiminy’s message flies over Pinocchio’s head and he continues with Honest John. Jiminy decides not to snitch on him to Gepetto, which would actually be the best course of action in this case but I’m no conscience myself so what do I know? Instead he sticks around to watch Pinocchio’s performance at Stromboli’s that evening. Stromboli is an absolute hoot; his larger than life showmanship is backed up by his equally over-the-top animation. Implied racial caricaturing aside, he’s a trip to watch. Yet there’s a deep fury roiling underneath his jovial exterior. We glimpse a bit of it here and there, and it’s mostly played for laughs, but when it comes out in full force…
After Stromboli’s lengthy introduction, the show begins. Pinocchio performs “I’ve Got No Strings” along with a cavalcade of inoffensive international stereotypes.
I apologize if I’m not going into too much detail with the songs. Rest assured they’re all classics and I can bet that you’ve been hearing them in your head as you’re reading along so there’s not much else I can say about them. Also this is one of those Disney movies where it unfortunately kind of forgets it’s a musical little over halfway through, meaning there’s no real songs after “I Got No Strings”. I understand the choice though, since the lack of songs underlines how serious things get from here on in.
The show is a smash and Jiminy is dumbfounded. Thinking Pinocchio is truly better off without him, he walks off morosely mumbling “What does an actor want with a conscience, anyway?” Man, I forgot this movie has some great lines.
Stromboli jovially counts his profits and magnanimously gifts Pinocchio a dud coin as “payment”. The puppet happily goes off to share his good fortune with Gepetto. But, eager to prevent his “little wooden goldmine” from slipping through his fingers, Stromboli scoops up Pinocchio and locks him in a birdcage. Vladimir Tytla’s energized animation now emphasizes Stromboli’s power and cruelty, making him doubly frightening than before. He tells Pinocchio they’re going to travel the world until the act grows stale and then Stromboli will turn him into firewood. And he says that last line as he tosses an axe into the chopped up remains of an old puppet, so DAMN. The guy means business. It’s the first sign that there’s a dark underbelly to this beast of a movie and from here it doesn’t let up.
And do I need to talk about just how much effort they put into showing Pinocchio at his lowest? You’ve got him running around his cage in a panic calling for Jiminy, while the cage itself rocks back and forth with the moving wagon, as the rows of lifeless marionettes dangling from the ceiling sway around him. All different layers of animation, all drawn by hand, all playing out at the same time.
Luckily Jiminy pops in to wish his buddy well and learns the horror of Pinocchio’s situation. He does his best to free him, but nothing short of a miracle can break the lock. Gepetto, meanwhile, is concerned that Pinocchio hasn’t returned home and goes out to search for him. This results in an instance of the American Tail tease where they come within inches of each other but contrivances decree that they remain unaware of the other’s presence.
The Blue Fairy appears and asks why Pinocchio is locked up, leading to the infamous scene where his nose grows with each lie he tells. The Blue Fairy imparts the famous words “A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face”, something which certain people could stand to remember nowadays.
Pinocchio and Jiminy learn their lesson and promise to do better. Satisfied, the Blue Fairy changes back his nose and unlocks the cage for them.
As for Foulfellow and Gideon, they’re bragging about how much they made off of selling Pinocchio to Stromboli at the Red Lobster Inn (no, not THAT Red Lobster) as a certain Coachman listens in. Interesting to note that the Coachman is played by the same actor as Stromboli. He’s so good that I never would have guessed it – Stromboli has a thick exaggerated Italian accent, whereas the Coachman speaks in a heavy Cockney drawl that still somehow manages to be intimidating. The Coachman promises Foulfellow and Gideon that they can make double what they made off screwing over Pinoke if they bring him “stupid little boys”.
He plans on bringing groups of troublemaking kids to a mythical place known only as Pleasure Island. Foulfellow expresses concerns about the law getting involved, but the Coachman has his own way of…assuring him.
Don’t worry, they never come back…as BOYS!!
And as he says that, his face turns into THIS:
It’s so bad that even Foulfellow and Gideon are terrified by it. They’ve had a horrifying glimpse at the true nature of their boss, but it’s too late for them to turn back now. I have to wonder if delivering Pinocchio to the Coachman is their way of alleviating their guilt. For one thing, it can’t be a coincidence that they run into Pinocchio as he’s making his way back home. And we don’t see them bringing any other boys to the Coachman. From the moment they laid eyes on Pinocchio, neither Foulfellow or Gideon saw Pinocchio as a person, just an object that could be bought and sold. So maybe they feel by delivering this non-human boy to their master, they can fulfill their end of the bargain and get paid without ruining anyone’s lives. After all, to them he’s just a puppet, not a real boy.
After convincing Pinocchio he’s “allergic” and the only cure is a vacation, Foulfellow and Gideon whisk him away to the coach bound to Pleasure Island. I’d say “here we go again” but Jiminy beats me to it after he hitches a ride. You know, all his treacle-cutting fourth wall-breaking makes me wish for a showdown between him and Deadpool. Disney, you’ve got Marvel AND Fox now. Make it happen!
Pinocchio befriends one of the many devil-may-care boys along for the trip, Lampwick, who takes him under his wing and shows him the joys of juvenile delinquency. Pleasure Island itself is a combination of the World’s Fair and Coney Island, but strip that away and it’s one huge take that aimed at carnivals Walt loathed for being a petrie dish of drunken debauchery. It’s everything he didn’t want his theme parks to be, and one of the reasons why the Disney parks stayed completely dry up until recently.
Time passes as Jiminy looks around for his charge, and he slowly begins to notice all the other boys seem to have vanished. He finally comes across a half-drunk half-high Pinocchio committing the deadliest sin of them all – playing pool!
Lampwick pokes fun at the diminutive narc and since Pinocchio won’t stand up for him, Jiminy calls it quits for real. As he’s leaving he sees the Coachman corralling an inordinate amount of donkeys with his big black hench-gorilla-things.
Each donkey is brought before the Coachman and asked their names. Ones who bray get stripped of their clothes and packed off to the salt mines or circus, but those who still speak meet a worse fate. They’re penned up and forced to wait as their humanity ebbs away, all while begging to go home to their mothers. Jiminy realizes that the donkeys were once boys and doubles back to warn Pinocchio.
But Pinocchio learns the hard way as the metamorphosis slowly creeps up on Lampwick. And in my humble opinion, any horror movie that features a terrifying transformation sequence owes everything to this scene. Trust me, I’ve dated a horror junkie for nearly seven years, and the shit I’ve watched with that piece of shit doesn’t even come close to capturing how harrowing this part is. The pure dread that comes from his hands morphing into hooves and how little we see the last worst part, just Lampwick’s shadow on the wall as what remains of him falls into mindless savagery, has yet to be topped.
The change also hits Pinocchio but Jiminy reaches him in time and they escape before any further damage is done. This is another thing that I never gave much thought to until recent viewings. It underlines the priorities in storytelling when it comes to movies from the past and ones made today. If Pinocchio was made now (and since it’s on the shortlist of live-action remakes it appears very likely), the filmmakers would probably have Pinocchio try to save the boys from their fates before getting the hell out of dodge. Here he and Jiminy look out for number one. They’re the main characters and the story needs to keep following them. Screw those other poor kids, they brought it upon themselves! And yes, I doubt there’s little Pinoke and Jiminy could do to help them at this point, but by modern standards it’s almost cold, especially when compiled with the fact that most every villain in the picture meets no karmic punishment for their deeds onscreen. It highlights a dark fact of reality that few escapist movies, particularly animated ones, dare to shine a spotlight on – that there are cruel people who manage to get away with terrible things on an everyday basis more often than be served justice. We want to see them get what’s coming to them, and though we won’t openly admit we fantasize about being the ones who get to save the day, but unfortunately that’s not how life works. Sometimes the only victories we can accomplish are the small everyday moral ones; it may not seem like much, but they provide a light that keep us from falling into the darkness of despair and can serve as a guiding beacon for others – that in and of itself can be the greatest victory of all over the dark side.
The two wash up on shore and return home to find Gepetto, Cleo and Figaro are gone without a trace. A deus ex machina in the form of a dove (implied to be the Blue Fairy in disguise) delivers a note detailing his whereabouts. Thankfully Gepetto’s alive, but was swallowed by a whale called Monstro while out searching for his son. Pinocchio prepares to go rescue him alone, but Jiminy is well aware by this point that sticking together is for the best.
You know, few consider how Jiminy’s arc is parallel to Pinocchio’s. Before meeting his wooden-headed friend, Jiminy was a drifter looking out only for himself. Now just as Pinocchio has to wander the earth learning lessons and overcoming base instincts to become a real boy, Jiminy has to work past his own insecurities and foibles to earn his title as conscience and one of the best Disney sidekicks in the canon. And neither of them can do it without the other.
So Pinocchio and Jiminy bob along at the bottom of the beautiful briny sea looking for Monstro, but receive no help from the creatures they encounter.
Shortly after, Monstro awakens, gives chase to a school of tuna and swallows Pinocchio in the process. As they make their way down his esophagus, Gepetto gets out his line and pole and prepares for some good ol’ deep sea fishing to stave off starvation a little longer. There’s a funny behind the scenes story about this part. Christian Rub, in addition to recording Gepetto’s lines, also served as the live-action reference for the animators. He’d come in, do his job well, and was by all accounts a decent fellow.
He was also a big supporter of Hitler.
Every day, at the slightest provocation, he’d go on a big tirade about what an amazing man Hitler was and how he was going to make Germany great again (his words, not mine). It drove the animators, who were far wiser than Rub was, up the wall. So when the time came to film reference for the scene where Gepetto is rocked around on his little vessel while trying to catch the fish, director Jack Kinney said, and I quote, “Let’s give the son of a bitch a really good ride.”
Needless to say Rub got the hint after that shakeup, and he never brought up his bosom buddy Adolf again.
Gepetto catches Pinocchio and the two have a touching reunion. It’s made even more heartwarming when Pinocchio reveals his donkey ears and tail and Gepetto doesn’t even care. He’s just so happy to have his son back. However Gepetto has long since given up hope that they can escape from Monstro and is ready to settle for a life of cetacean leftovers. Yet this talk of roasting tuna on an open fire inspires Pinocchio and he starts to build an even bigger one. By his reasoning the smoke will make Monstro sneeze them out.
It does sure enough, but Monstro is beyond pissed. In a fit of rage he pursues the raft. Nothing come hell or high water will keep him from his prey.
Hot damn, this climax. First, we wouldn’t have photorealistic water of Finding Nemo and Moana without Pinocchio showing how it’s done traditionally first. You can feel the sea spray splashing off the screen. And the tension! It’s a fast-paced precursor to the finale of Jaws; the only thing that’s missing is Gepetto blowing up Monstro with a harpoon gun.
Monstro obliterates the raft, and Gepetto starts drowning. Pinocchio refuses to save himself and desperately tries to swim his father to safety. As Monstro makes one last charge, he smacks headfirst into a cliff while everyone is washed safely ashore. But Jiminy finds Pinocchio face down in the shallows, apparently dead. Obviously he can’t drown since we’ve seen him survive underwater so I assume he must have taken a nasty hit to the head on the rocks. Either way, they take him home and mourn him at his bedside ala Snow White. Yet Pinocchio’s sacrifice has proven him worthy of humanity, and the Blue Fairy restores him to life and turns him into a real boy.
Everyone celebrates through the preferred expression of joy in this movie, overenthusiastic dancing. Jiminy steps outside a moment to thank the Blue Fairy and is given his reward, a solid gold badge officially proclaiming him a bona-fide conscience. We end on a very short reprise of “When You Wish Upon a Star” over another gorgeous zoom-out of the starry mountain range. It wraps up a little too quickly for my taste, but better that than dragging it out gratuitously.
It’s a testament to how well Pinocchio tells its story and entangles you in its emotional high stakes that details like the anthropomorphic inconsistencies and the fate of the donkeys only come apart after subjecting them to needless nitpicking. The visuals are a masterclass in character acting in animation, and the effects! Thousands of dollars went to the little details like that multiplane shot through Pinocchio’s village and the steamship to Pleasure Island sailing across the glimmering seas, moments that add little in the grand scheme of things but make it that much sweeter to experience. All this plus the great cast of characters and music easily earns it a spot among my top ten favorite Disney movies, maybe even top five.
Pinocchio was met with critical acclaim on release, but unfortunately underperformed at the box office, mainly due to World War 2 cutting off the European markets. Pinocchio’s home country of Italy never even saw the movie until well after the war’s end. Thankfully it recouped its losses thanks to annual re-releases, and has gone on to be recognized as a classic. Nearly eighty years later it still boasts some of the best animation Disney – or any studio for that matter – has ever done. As much as I love Snow White, Pinocchio is Walt’s best animated movie from his time – well, the best one with a traditional narrative at least…see you in March.
Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this review, please consider supporting me on Patreon. Patreon supporters get perks such as extra votes and adding movies of their choice to the Shelf. Special thanks to Amelia Jones and Gordhan Ranaj for their contributions, and a VERY special thank you to Abigail Kane for her charity donation to The Coalition of Humane Immigrants Rights of Los Angeles that made this review possible. Thanks for being so patient!
Also thanks to Tony for helping me find the lines paralleling Pinocchio’s first words and movies in a nutshell!
You can vote for whatever movie you want me to look at next by leaving it in the comments or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, unless you’re a Patreon supporter, you can only vote once a month. The list of movies available to vote for are under “What’s On the Shelf”.
Artwork by Charles Moss.
If you want to know more about the making of Pinocchio, I highly recommend JB Kaufman’s Pinocchio: The Making of a Disney Epic. It’s highly in-depth and very worth your time if you’re a fan of the movie or Disney history in general.