When your favorite character in a film doesn’t have one line then you know you just weren’t that enthralled. Such was the case with Walt Disney Pinocchio (1940), where I much preferred Figaro the cat to every other animated being in it. Plus, the story, by today’s standards, is just too pedophilic for me: single, old man builds a boy puppet and wishes that it were a real boy and then a fairy grants his wish. I’ve obviously been irrevocably scarred by the times in which we live, but did they really have to call the amusement park where the stupid, bad boys are taken Pleasure Island?
Walt Disney’ second foray into fairy-tale themed feature-length animation was based on Carlo Collodi’s 1880s novel, The Adventures of Pinocchio. Gepppetto (Christian Rub) is a lonely wood carver who lives alone with his cat, Figaro, and his goldfish, Cleo. One night after putting the finishing touches on a puppet he makes a wish upon a star that the puppet become a real boy. After Geppetto falls off to sleep a fairy (Evelyn Venable) visits the cottage and partially grants his wish. From the fairy dust emerges Pinocchio (Dickie Jones), a living puppet who must earn human status by being “brave, truthful and unselfish and able to tell right from wrong”. He is assigned a conscience—a cricket named Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards), who sounds and looks like Fred Astaire. His Odyssian (my word!) quest for boyhood and knowing the difference between right or wrong finds him: duped by a fox named Honest John (Walter Catlett); kidnapped by a money-hungry marionette manipulator (Charles Judels); taken to a den of childhood sin by a man who wants to turn him into a jackass for the salt mines; and, swallowed in the belly of a sperm whale appropriately named Monstro. In the words of Dorothy Gale, “"Oh! Oh! Jiminy Crickets!"
Let’s get the important things out of the way—the animation (for 1940) is spectacular. From the intricacies of the cuckoo clocks to the ethereal quality of the Blue Fairy, the animation set the bar quite high for future films. Compared to what we see today it might seem a bit crude, but effects animation (focused on movement, not on character) was a burgeoning art form and abstract animators like Oskar Fischinger did some amazing work in Pinocchio: the rainstorm, the fairy’s dust from the wand, and the entire sea/whale sequence are standouts in effects animation.
Now, I’m not a psychologist and/or a Freudian, but I wonder what Freud would have made of Pinocchio had he lived long enough to see it. Let’s get past the Geppetto issue and look at some other elements that make the film suspect. Pinocchio is made of wood. When he gets excited his nose grows and it looks like a phallus. Honest John looks and sounds like a pimp. Pinocchio is locked in a cage by Stromboli until he needs to use him again. At Pleasure Island they ply the boys with candy, cigarettes/cigars, and booze. The whale that he must enter to save Geppetto is a sperm whale. Do you see where I’m going here? Ah, if only I were still an innocent child I might be capable of not reading too much into such things!
Overall, Pinocchio should be recognized for its revolutionary animation contributions. Figaro is adorable and Jiminy Cricket’s “When You Wish Upon a Star” is memorable. Personally, the story does nothing for me other than creep the hell out of me. Having reviewed three Disney films now (Fantasia and Dumbo are the others) I’ve come to the uncomfortable conclusion that adults should not revisit the beloved films of their childhood.
Kim, Have you revisited "Snow White" - I've seen it a few since childhood and am still very fond of it. I haven't seen "Pinocchio" for years, or "Dumbo" or "Bambi." Now I'm curious what my reaction might be.ReplyDelete
Snow White is on the list. I'll probably get to it in the next few months. I'll be interested to see what my reaction is.ReplyDelete
I was surprised at just how dark Pinocchio is. The donkey transformation, for instance, is potentially really scary for little kids. The one donkey who knows his name and remembers his mom is really upsetting.ReplyDelete
We'll have to agree to disagree on this one. It's my favorite of the early Disney films.
It is a dark film. Good point about the donkey-transformation scenes. I think that's why they did it in shadow.Delete
I see where you are going here and I had some similar thoughts, though mostly in the direction of the darkness of the film. Those are tough lessons for a child and awful abuses Pinocchio is suffering. Yet I cannot dislike the film. Pinocchio is a good boy and very likeable and that helps a lot. But Disney could not make such a movie today.ReplyDelete
They'd really have to revamp the story by today's standards for a remake.Delete
I don't think it's all that strange for a single old man to wish he had a son. There's something about getting to the end of your life and wishing you had a legacy to leave. I think, especially, a man longs for a son...you know the carry on the family name thing. I have known several single men who felt that way in their twilight years.ReplyDelete
Also, maybe I'm just naive, but the things you mentioned, never occurred to me...even watching this as an adult (when my kids were little.) I usually just watch a movie and am not looking for a hidden meaning.
That said, I'm not a fan of Pinocchio, but I'm not really a fan of anything animated. I was born 100 years old!! Even as a kid, I didn't gravitate to "cartoons" the way my friends did. And I still don't care for animated shows. I struggled through them when my kids were little, and now that they are grown and all my Disney movies are on VHS and I no longer have a VHS player, I don't have to watch them anymore.
I have been corrupted by the times in which we live--everything has a hidden meaning. I find it interesting that you never liked animation, I thought all kids went through that phase. What a struggle it must have been when you had kids who wanted to watch it.Delete
Oh my goodness! My childhood is ruined! You had me laughing out loud at this one, but I do agree that we are jaded and corrupted by out times. I recently saw Chaplin's "City Lights" with a friend and when Charlie and the drunken millionaire sleep in the same bed after a might to too much to drink she asked if they were gay. She also thought that "The Kid" had a touch of pedophilia, too. I guess in poor Pinocchio's defense, you need to view it though the innocent eyes of a child.ReplyDelete
Yep, that's our problem: we've become jaded. I can see how your friend might have noticed a few things in The Kid, too. Ah, to be a child again!Delete
I read the novel "Pinocchio" by C. Collodi when I was a kid and, while I thought it was an overall beautiful story, some of the passages really frightened me. So when I finally saw the film, as a teenager, I felt Disney had done the story a great disservice...but not for the reasons you mentioned. I've only seen the film once and haven't seen it since.ReplyDelete
I've heard that the book has some dark parts. I think that's what they were trying to incorporate into the movie, but you're limited what you can do when it's a children's film.Delete
LOL, Kim... thanks for the warning. The last time I watched "The Adventures of Pinocchio", it was as a child. Now, I do not want my Grandchildren to watch this film. :)ReplyDelete
But they're the only ones who can enjoy it without seeing all the icky parts! LOLDelete