Saturday, September 19, 2020

Animation Celebration Saturday - Pinocchio (1940)

Disney, 1940
Voices of Dick Jones, Cliff Edwards, Christian Rub, and Walter Catlett
Directed by Ben Sharpstein and Hamilton Luske
Music by Leigh Harline; Lyrics by Ned Washington

This was Disney's follow-up to their massive hit Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The story of a little puppet and his cricket friend who run up against temptation (and four of the nastiest villains in animation) wasn't a hit on first release, but is now considered to be one of the studio's most enduring classics. How does Pinocchio's story look today? Let's start with our narrator Jiminy Cricket (Edwards) as he introduces his friend's story and find out...

The Story: Pinocchio (Jones) was created by lonely toy maker Geppetto (Rub), who longed for a son of his own. The Blue Fairy (Evelyn Venable) gave him his wish and brought Pinocchio to life. To keep him on the straight and narrow, she anoints Jiminy as his conscience. 

The little cricket discovers how tough it is to be the conscience to a puppet when Pinocchio is easily swayed from attending school by con animals "Honest" John (Catlett) and Gideon. They sell him to Stromboli (Charles Judels), a puppeteer, who wants him for his show and has no desire to let him return to his father. Even after they manage to escape Stromboli, the two confidence critters sell Pinocchio on the idea of "Pleasure Island," a place where boys can do whatever they want. This works out even less well, ending with Pinocchio half-donkey and barely avoiding a frightening Coachman (Judels). Now they have to rescue Geppetto from the belly of a whale, or Pinocchio will never truly become a real little boy. 

The Animation: Gorgeous to this day. The opening and closings with the star are stunning in their detail. You could spend time just checking out all the details on the clocks and toys in Geppetto's workshop, or checking out the buildings and shenanigans on Pleasure Island. This was the first animated film with "effects" animation, and it still looks pretty good, especially Pinocchio and Jiminy underwater.

The Song and Dance: One of Disney's lushest and most beautifully drawn films. It's also one of their scariest. The villains are some of their most frightening - the Coachman in that brief "devil" shot is utterly terrifying! Gags from Jiminy and Geppetto's pets Figaro the kitten and Cleo the goldfish help balance things out. Edwards did so well as Jiminy, he would continue to voice the character for the rest of his life. The music is excellent, too. "When You Wish Upon a Star" won an Oscar and is considered to be something of a theme for the entire Walt Disney Company.

Favorite Number: In fact, the film opens and closes with Jiminy performing "When You Wish Upon a Star" over one of those lush blue backdrops. Geppetto dances with his new "Little Wooden Head" creation after he finishes him at the workshop, introducing him (and us) to his kitten Figaro and fish Cleo. Foulfellow uses the catchy "Hi Diddle Dee" to convince Pinocchio that it would be wonderful to join the theater. "I've Got No Strings" is Pinocchio's puppet act; it starts off with him doing a slightly awkward solo, but ends with him dancing - or trying to dance - with marionettes from all over Europe.

Trivia: At least six more songs intended for Jiminy Cricket, Foulfellow, the chorus, and the boys at Pleasure Island were written, but eventually dropped. Jiminy's song, "I'm a Happy-Go-Lucky Fellow," would eventually be used in Fun & Fancy Free

This was the second movie released on the Walt Disney Classics video label in the mid-80's after Robin Hood

Disney originally intended to make their own sequel in the mid-2000's, but it's one of the many John Lasseter canceled when he took over the animation studio in 2006. They seem to have more luck with a live-action version that's just about ready to film.

What I Don't Like: This is one of their few animated movies where the villains get away with everything. No one ever punishes Foulfellow, Gideon, Stromboli, or the Coachman for any of the terrible things they do, nor do we find out what happened to the other donkey-boys. Pinocchio just evades them and dashes off to the next temptation. Pinocchio himself isn't really all that interesting, either. He's another character things just happen to. 

The Big Finale: One of Disney's most charming and unusual fantasies. Watch this one with slightly older kids who can handle some of the scarier stuff with the bad guys and Monstro the Whale.

Home Media: Easily found in all formats. Your best bet for streaming would be Disney Plus if you have a subscription.

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