STUDIO: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
MSRP: $24.49
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
• Making-of Documentaries
• Deleted scenes (storyboards)
• Alternate Ending (storyboard)
• Sweatbox featurette
• Deleted song
• DVD Copy of film


The Pitch

Disney’s most thoughtful cartoon gets the 1080p treatment.

The Humans

Cast: Dickie Jones, Cliff Edwards, Christan Rub, Mel Blanc (kinda)

The Nutshell

Everyone reading this should know Pinocchio pretty well by now, but for the unaware, it’s about a lonely Italian clockmaker whose wooden puppet comes to life, befriends a helpful advice cricket, and gets duped into child slavery more than once.

For Pinocchio, smoking is actually a form of cannibalism, so it’s double bad.

The Lowdown

Following the wild successes of Snow White with an expanded tool set and a monstrous budget, Disney’s Pinocchio met with critical acclaim but a generally disappointing box office tally. The disappointment, as it turns out, might have been a direct result of what made the film so great in the first place; Pinocchio might be a cute kid, but his world is vicious, bleak, and lonely. There are other Disney films with interesting subtexts, but Pinocchio‘s often reaches into complex and bitter places, and when it does, it doesn’t hide too far beneath the surface.

If you haven’t seen Pinocchio since childhood, do yourself a favor and rediscover it.

While children should be able to pick up on Pinocchio‘s core themes, there’s a wealth of subtle notes in the film that are clearly meant for adults. The film is laden with irony, like showing an enslaved puppet sing “I’ve got no strings,” and there’s even a little blue humor. The narrative follows the eponymous puppet on a quest to earn the right to sentience. The quest presents Pinocchio with a series of tests, all of which play out as simple morality challenges: Pinocchio learns to avoid gluttonous temptation, to tell the truth, and to be brave, and he’s ultimately rewarded with both a consciousness and an endoskeleton. “Be good” is the order of the day, and when the closing titles appear, there’s little doubt that we’ve witnessed a sweet spectacle in Pinocchio’s well earned reward.

Sometimes a leering crotch tent is just a leering crotch tent.

There are, of course, darker implications to Pinocchio beyond “be good.” As a puppet, Pinocchio doesn’t really have free will. Sure, he’s an occasional liar, and he miraculously comes up with a plan to escape from the belly of a whale, but these moments seem ancillary when compared to the bulk of the rest of his journey. He’s essentially an automaton before the Blue Fairy grants him sentience, which is why he so desperately needs Jiminy Cricket; he’s a vehicle on autopilot without his conscience, sort of like a wooden, animate SmarterChild. He’s equipped with a basic set of goals – escape cage, find father, become real boy – but he doesn’t proactively do anything to accomplish them. Pinocchio is regulated by external forces. This means that the Blue Fairy tasks Pinocchio, who’s fundamentally incapable of making decisions, with the impossible task of telling right from wrong. It’s a cruelty that leads Pinocchio to his death, and dovetails into larger questions about existence: If we’re each created with a predefined set of values and judged based on these same values, what does that say about our Creator? Is free will imaginary?

And then there’s the ending. When the Blue Fairy resurrects Pinocchio, there’s a strong temptation to dismiss it as a Disney moment. The obligatory fairy tale happy ending. A saccharine capper. But is it really? After all, as an automaton, Pinocchio can’t feel pain, guilt, or despair, and in Collodi’s Italy, that might be an advantage. Pinocchio lives in a world where a vast network of child predators own and operate theme parks designed to harvest children. It’s a world where bad little boys undergo Cronenbergian transformations. It’s a world where otherwise peaceful ocean mammals are vindictive berserkers. As a real boy, Pinocchio will experience the full depths of this nightmare world without the blissful safety net of puppethood. He’ll burn and bleed, and it will hurt. It’s not that the Blue Fairy’s gift is some kind punishment, because there are obvious benefits to being alive – it’s that being given consciousness in this environment is far from a problem free resolution.

It’s also fine to enjoy Pinocchio as a simple treat. It’s a masterfully told story that succeeds on multiple levels, so it’s little wonder that we’re still talking about it seventy years later.

Savini’s early work as a clockmaker. Hourly Karo syrup discharge

made this particular model unpopular and not very cost effective.

It’s also interesting to note how this version of Pinocchio diverges from Collodi’s original story. Collodi’s was more of a straightforward morality tale, as his Pinocchio was a bratty, spiteful, and violent puppet who actually kills his conscience cricket rather than adopting it. There’s a killer fish (Il Terribile Pescecane) with a cavernous belly, but Pinocchio doesn’t die while escaping from it. Instead, he journeys home and donates money to the Blue Fairy, who grants him boyhood in return. Pinocchio also encounters Lampwick’s donkey corpse at a farm along the way. It’s no surprise that the Disney version is a little more family friendly.

The film’s detail and craftsmanship, especially in 1080p, is astounding. Crashing waves look real enough to drown in, and the billowing smoke in Monstro’s belly is enough to make eyes water. New technology developed specifically for the film, like the multiplane camera, make it stand out as both an innovator and a landmark achievement. The humor still feels fresh and clever, and the songs are still lots of fun. It’s fair to say that Pinocchio is the pinnacle of two dimensional animation, and deserves a home in anyone’s collection.

The Package

Since Pinocchio is already so familiar to most audiences, there’s an ample amount of extra features to compel DVD owners to dip into the Blu-Ray. Aside from the flawless 1080p reproduction and lossless audio, there are a suite of extras that add a ton of value to the set. The behind the scenes featurette ruminates on Pinocchio’s origins, and provides an interesting look at the technical muscle needed to create the film. There are storyboards for deleted sequences and an alternate ending, and a reproduction of an unused song, as well as live action reference footage of voice actors like Cliff Edwards (Jiminy Cricket). There’s a great featurette on the “sweatbox room” that includes readings of notes taken from brainstorming sessions; it’s fun to hear Walt Disney’s take on certain scenes and to see how critical the boss really was of his animators. He was apparently quite the alpha male.

These extras are wrapped up in a set of HD menus that recreate Geppetto’s workshop, and are almost worth the sticker price alone.

For the kids, there are a wide assortment of puzzles and games. There’s also a DVD copy of the film with a different set of SD menus.

Interesting facts: Christian Rub, who voiced Geppetto, looks nearly identical to Geppetto. Mel Blanc voiced some of the film’s sound effects.

10 out of 10