Pinocchio proved feature-length animation was here to stay. By at the same time proving Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs wasn’t just beginners luck. Pinocchio was a lot more complex and made far greater use of its animation. Including a trailblazing use of realistically drawn machinery, rain, water, and so much more that still holds up today. Instead of a straightforward fairy tale, Pinocchio is based on Italian children’s book The Adventures of Pinocchio. Walt Disney loved the story when it was brought to his attention.
However, drastic Disneyfication had to be taken. Pinocchio will always be a puppet that wants to be real and whose nose grows when he lies, but the original character is far different. He’s rude, unsympathetic, and actually squishes the helpful cricket. The story itself didn’t need much expanding. Despite its many technical achievements, Pinocchio wasn’t a box-office success. Since it was released in 1940 during World War II. But that didn’t stop Disney’s second feature film from winning 2 Oscars for Best Original Score and Original Song for “When You Wish Upon a Star.” A song so memorable it became the theme for Walt Disney Studios itself…
Pinocchio is another Disney classic I watched multiple times on VHS when I myself was a real boy. Although it wasn’t always a pleasant viewing experience. Since Pinocchio is actually one of the darker Disney animated movies. Even after the extensive changes that were made. It all begins with kindly old woodcarver Geppetto. His shop is filled with many intricate carvings. Geppetto lives with his cat Figaro and fish Cleo, but he longs to be a father. So he builds a wooden marionette boy named Pinocchio. The first male protagonist in a Disney movie. In stark contrast to the book, Pinocchio is sweet, innocent, and a little naive.
To counter that, the nameless talking cricket is expanded and given the era appropriate name Jiminy Cricket. The comical sidekick became one of Disney’s most iconic characters. After the lovely Blue Fairy gives Pinocchio life, she appoints Jiminy as his conscious. To help guide him towards making the right choices in life. Only when displaying the virtues of bravery, loyalty, and honesty will he become a real boy. If he lies, Pinocchio’s nose famously grows bigger and bigger. What makes Pinocchio so dark is just how much the poor lad has to go through to reach his goal. There are multiple villains all out to tempt and/or deceive the little wooden puppet.
Despite the human filled world they live in, the first antagonists are an anthropomorphic fox and cat named “Honest” John and assistant Giddy. They’re manipulative shysters that lead Pinocchio to his next and most despicable antagonist. Stromboli is a cruel tyrannical puppet master who uses him in his show. The most traumatizing stuff is everything that happens on Pleasure Island. A place where naughty boys are free to smoke, drink, gamble, and be as rambunctious as possible (hey, it was the 40’s). Nothing is more scarring than a boy named Lampwick being turned into a donkey. As it turns out, an evil Coachman is selling the transformed children into labor. It’s an unsettling detail that never gets resolved. In their search to find Geppetto, Pinocchio and Jiminy find him in the belly of the final antagonist. A monsterous giant whale named Monstro. The final conflict costs Pinocchio his life, but it’s enough to finally make him a real boy.
The animation is a bit more stylized with the lone exception of the Blue Fairy. The underwater sequences and other technical details make it so hard to believe this was 80 years ago. This was also the first animated movie to use famous celebrities as voice actors. Something that would later become the norm. The songs are some of the best of the Golden Age. “When You Wish Upon a Star” is an inspiring dreamers song that represents all of Disney’s best qualities. There’s also the catchy “Give a Little Whistle” and joyful puppet anthem “I’ve Got No Strings.” With a maintained score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, Pinocchio is truly a well-crafted work of art that represents the peak of Disney animation.