Disney’s second full-length animated feature. The plot of this reads like an epic. With Pinocchio you’re pulled back and forth from danger to safety a few times over, and in the end, (is it a spoiler if the film is 80 years old?), our little wooden boy outsmarts the largest of foes, saving his sweet little family, and earning a life for himself as a real boy. But like I said, he’s not quick to get there! Despite the urgings from his conscience, Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio is swept away by evils abound in his cozy Italian town. Honest John and Gideon swindle him twice. First into an actor’s life with Stromboli (where he is freed by the blue fairy), then off to pleasure island where he narrowly avoids a full transformation into a donkey (thanks to Jiminy). Just as he and his cricket-conscience make it home to Geppetto’s cozy cottage, it’s down to the bottom of the sea to rescue his father from the belly of the giant whale Monstro; All before we finally get to ‘Happily Ever After’ via the sultry Blue Fairy in the form of real boy, a dancing Geppetto, a big kiss from Figaro the cat to Cleo the goldfish, and a wink from a shining star as Jiminy Cricket earns his golden conscience badge.
I’ve probably seen this film in the ballpark of 10 times since my childhood. However, after watching it again from start to finish, (and with the purpose of this blog in mind), there were many things I had missed before, either because I was just a kid, or because I was watching it just for leisure, and not with analyzing in mind. My most notable observation was that this time through I was SHOOKETH by the evils. And I know that it’s been well established–Disney has some dark themes. That’s not new, or newsworthy, or surprising. But here was the real ah-ha moment for me. From my childhood, watching this film on my grandparent’s couch during many a sleepover, I can remember these things: the whale, Stromboli’s thunderous voice and the image of Pinocchio swinging back and forth trapped in his cage, and the creepy carnival of pleasure island. For some reason, I remember those scary bits.. but I don’t remember being scared! I grew up with this film and prior to my rewatching it for this piece, my overall sense of its themes were something along the lines of “playful”, “warm”, “magic”, and “always letting your conscience be your guide”. What I DON’T remember is the extent of the danger that Pinocchio faces, the evil around every turn trying to steal his boyish innocence. So, why as a little girl, wasn’t I fearful of stranger danger when I watched the crooks Honest John and Gideon sweep Pinocchio away and sell him off to TWO different men who preyed on boys for money? Why didn’t I think twice about the image of Lampwick’s terror as he slowly turned into a donkey? Why did I remember the detail of Honest John’s little fingertip poking out from the tip of his ripped glove, but not that he was selling Pinocchio off to a man who would turn him into a DONKEY? I can boil it down to two things.
- Re-watching Disney films as an adult, (and I mean really watching them, not just having them on in the background or tuning in and out for your favorite parts), is, wow, a totally different experience than watching them as a child. About ¾ of the way through I looked at my husband with a knot in my chest and said “I just want Geppetto to get him BACK!”. And the film hadn’t even shown Geppetto since the beginning! But here I was putting myself in the shoes of the father desperately seeking the whereabouts of his brand new boy. It’s not hard to see why I felt this way. I’m a new mom to a new boy. As an adult you know more of the world, you recognize evil and you sympathize with the darker elements of the film because you have experience with them. That experience is key. The absence of that experience is what allows you to watch it as a kiddo and trivialize corruption down to the detail of a gloved fingertip.
- Disney is just THAT good. Pinocchio is only their second shot at animated storytelling through film and those tender, cozy elements stick to your insides and outweigh the bad stuff. Which is why I remember Geppetto’s goofy cuckoo-clocks, sequences of Geppetto and Pinocchio dancing hand in hand, and Jiminy’s crooning lullaby’s more than anything. So let’s further discuss that good stuff.
the good stuff
Are you kidding me with this character? He’s actually perfect. He’s cute as a button, he’s sassy, and loyal enough to dive to the ocean floor to face a giant whale with Pinocchio, stuffing an ocean pebble down his pants to weight him down enough to trudge through the sandy depths. He calls Pinocchio “Pinoke” and he sings the best song in the film. Something else I noticed for the first time during this viewing: Jiminy loves the ladies. Just watch how he melts into a blushing puddle each time he sees the Blue Fairy, or the little flirtation he has with the creature in the cuckoo clock. Also, it goes without saying, the whole conscience thing. He’s the voice of reason for Pinocchio, and though Pinocchio is naive and impulsive, Jiminy doesn’t give up. Okay, he almost gives up on Pleasure Island when Pinocchio declares Lampwick his best friend, calls Lampwick a jackass (foreshadowing?) and storms out in a fit of rage. But then he comes back and gets partially-donkeyed Pinocchio out of there in the nick of time. My hero.
The Blue Fairy
Who is this regal lady? She’s glittery and she has a sultry old-Hollywood-esque voice that I LOVE. She has some of the best lines in the film. Guaranteed I’ll be telling my sons, “A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face.”, and “A boy who won’t be good might just as well be made of wood.” Why isn’t she celebrated more in Disney fandom? Underrated character alert!
and the single greatest part of this film:
When You Wish Upon A Star
Okay, I know I’m only two movies in out of about 500. BUT. I’m going to make a bold statement. This is the greatest Disney song of all time. It’s classic, gentle, romantic, warm, dreamy, fills you with emotion and then calms you like a lullaby. It’s the anthem for everything ‘Happily Ever After’, and makes me feel like I’m walking down Disneyland’s Main Street under twinkling lights every time I hear it. It won the Oscar for Best Song in 1940. If you haven’t listened to it in awhile, do it now.