Each week, THN takes a look back at one of the Walt Disney Animated Classics. The ones that the Walt Disney Company showed in cinemas, the ones they’re most proud of, the ones that still cost a bloody fortune no matter how old they are. The really good ones get through more editions than the Star Wars trilogy, and that’s saying something.
This week we take a look back at everyone’s favourite wooden-head. No, not Robert Pattinson, but Pinocchio.
1940/ 88 minutes
Budget: $ 2.6 million
Box Office: $ 1.4 – 1.9 million [Initial release, see below]
Directed by Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske, Norman Ferguson, T. Hee,
Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney and Bill Roberts.
Having silenced his critics and made a killing, of sorts, with Snow White, Disney’s next project’s initial release was hampered somewhat by a little political scuffle known as World War Two, meaning foreign markets suffered. The war would have repercussions further down the line for the House of Mouse, but Pinocchio went on to become one of Disney’s most successful and best-loved fables, whose story still resonates to this day.
It’s also interesting to note that this is one of the few mainstream Disney films where human characters (albeit caricatures) interact with anthropomorphic animals.
SYNOPSIS: Kindly old woodcarver Geppetto crafts a life-sized marionette of a young boy. No sooner has he finished, a wishing star appears in the sky. Confiding in Figaro, his pet cat, Geppetto reveals his wish is that his newest creation, christened “Pinocchio”, be made into a real boy. While Geppetto sleeps, the star, taking the form of a Blue Fairy, visits the workshop and grants Geppetto his wish, somewhat; the wooden boy is bestowed with life, but remains a puppet. The Blue Fairy then tells Pinocchio that he has to earn his humanity by proving himself, brave, truthful and unselfish, and to be able to tell right from wrong by listening to his conscience. Being only thirty seconds old, Pinoke doesn’t understand the concept; an eavesdropping Jiminy Cricket steps in to try and explain, only to be given the gig himself.
Geppetto wakes to find his newest creation is up and about, and trashing the workshop, setting fire to himself in the process. The morning afterwards, rather than get to know his new “son”, Geppetto kicks the brat off to his first day of school, apparently forgetting that, to quote Brian Conley, it’s a puppet! Lo and behold, the naïve, wee little puppet man (boy) is promptly spotted by a pair of con artists, Honest John and Gideon, who immediately see an opportunity, and sell the boy to Stromboli’s puppet show. Seeing Pinocchio’s sudden success as a sideshow star, Jiminy decides he’s blown it as a conscience and leaves. Meanwhile, Geppetto’s worried about his boy not coming home, despite not giving the kid directions in the first place. He sets out to look for him.
Pinocchio tries to go home for the night, only to be locked in a cage and threatened with dismemberment by Stromboli. During the night, Jiminy returns but can’t get Pinocchio free. The Blue Fairy appears, and Pinocchio’s attempts to lie about his predicament cause his nose to grow into a tree branch, complete with nesting birds. Realising his error, Pinocchio promises to improve, and the Fairy springs him loose, warning that this is the last time.
Honest John and Gideon meanwhile are holed up in a tavern, drinking to their success in duping the boy. This strikes up the attention of a Coachmen, who hires them to round up some more “stupid little boys” for his business on Pleasure Island.
By chance, the con-“men” bump into Pinocchio again, and once again dupe the boy into visiting Pleasure Island. On the way, Pinocchio meets and befriends Lampwick, a right little shit who likes nothing more than a good smoke and smashing up the joint, which they promptly proceed to do on Pleasure Island, a massive carnival where boys are encouraged to do whatever they want.
After a short spat, and the former leaving again, Jiminy and Pinocchio discover the real purpose of the island, which turns out to be run by the Coachman; he’s transforming young boys into donkeys to work in mines and circuses. Disney draws a veil over what happens to the ones that can still talk…
Lampwick suffers a long, protracted (and rather well animated) transformation before Pinocchio’s eyes, and the boy and his cricket escape the island relatively unscathed: Pinocchio is left with donkey ears and a tail.
Pinocchio rushes home, only to find Geppetto is gone. A letter from the Fairy informs them that he went looking for Pinocchio, and has been swallowed whole by Monstro, a colossal whale. Pinocchio gives chase across the bottom of the ocean gets swallowed himself and is reunited with his father, who is overjoyed to see his “little wooden head”, regardless of his new attributes.
Escaping the whale by setting fire to their raft, causing the whale to sneeze them out into open water, Pinocchio succeeds in saving his father’s life, at the tragic cost of his own. As Geppetto and Jiminy mourn the boy, the Fairy deems Pinocchio worthy of humanity, and is resurrected, to the joy of his family. As the wake becomes a “birthday” party, Jiminy steps out to silently thank the Fairy, who presents him with a golden badge for his service as an official conscience.
The fates of Stromboli, Honest John and Gideon, the Coachman, Lampwick and the other transformed children are left unresolved
1. Lying is bad.
2. Don’t trust strangers.
3. Teach your kids some common sense before letting them out of the house alone.
THE HERO: Pinocchio, voiced by Dickie Jones
Optimistic to a fault, naïve and gullible as hell, Pinocchio’s heart is nonetheless in the right place. He shows ingenuity and bravery. He’s an okay singer too.
THE HEROINE: Arguably the Blue Fairy, voiced by Evelyn Venable
More of a plot device than a character, she’s very maternal and a little ruthless like the best mothers. She’s also surprisingly realistic, when compared to the caricature nature of other human characters. This is because her animation was modelled on dancer and choreographer Marge Champion, who also worked with Disney animators to create Snow White, and the Dancing Hippo in Fantasia.
THE VILLAINS: Stromboli; the Coachman (both voiced by Charles Judels), Monstro (Thurl Ravenscroft)
Both Stromboli and the Coachmen start off as neutral if not “good” characters, only for them both to reveal massive dark streaks. Both are large, well-fed characters, obviously in good bread off their respective trades. Monstro is shown as more clear-cut; he’s a monster, pure and simple, hence his name, but I wonder how angry you’d get if someone set a fire in your mouth…
THEIR FATE? Stromboli and the Coachmen are never mentioned again, leaving us to make our own conclusions. Monstro crashes into a cliff and is presumably killed by the impact.
Again, you could argue that Jiminy Cricket (Voiced by Cliff Edwards) is the real hero of the movie, seeing as it’s from his perspective; it’s him telling the tale of how he got his job at the end of the day.
I’m putting Honest John and Gideon into this category cos they’re not really villainous in that they’re out for themselves. Walter Catlett’s Honest John gets all the good lines (well, all the lines full stop) but Gideon’s Dopey-esque manner charms.
INTERESTING INTERLUDE: Originally, Warner Bros. stalwart Mel Blanc was cast as Gideon, but his dialogue was deleted to make Gideon mute, much like Dopey. All that remained of Blanc’s original performance was a hiccup. Considering he was still paid for all the unused dialogue, that effectively makes him the highest paid voice actor – per word – in movie history.
Essentially Pinocchio going from one situation to another, getting in over his head and escaping by the skin of his wooden teeth. He’s treated to the darkest and most sinister sides of humanity, threatened with death and torture, and gets taught some of life’s hardest lessons. Jiminy makes an engaging introduction and narrator; you find yourself feeling as much for him as Pinocchio, if not more.
A couple, mostly of the pratfall/ slapstick variety, and many of them at the expense of Honest John or Gideon. Stromboli gets a few laughs before he shows his true intent with Pinocchio, but mostly it’s quite a serious affair.
Where do you start? The Coachman revealing his true colours, the dark secret of Pleasure Island, Lampwick’s transformation, not to mention a giant angry whale who’d give Moby Dick a swim for his money.
We learn quite a bit from Pinocchio; not to trust strangers, to let your parents know where you are and where you’re going, that lying makes your nose grow (which is true, by the way), and that drinking too much can turn you into an ass.
From dear old Geppetto however, we don’t learn as much. While he does love and cherish his son and venture out in search of him, had he taught the boy a few lessons in the first place they wouldn’t have ended up in such a mess. But then again, would Pinocchio have earned his humanity?
It didn’t do so well first time out, but numerous subsequent releases, and the odd cameo appearance from Jiminy Cricket, have made Pinocchio one of the Disney Company’s – Buy ‘N’ Large (sorry) – biggest and best loved hits.
FINAL SCORE 42/53
(By about March we should have enough movies on this list to bother with a scoreboard.)
Any thoughts, questions, complaints? As the Candlestick said, “Be our guest”.
Sources: disney.wikia, IMDb