Pinocchio (1940)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Geppetto (voiced by Christian Rub) is a woodcarver who lives with Figaro, his cat, and Cleo, his fish. His latest creation is a marionette carved as a little boy, in which he named Pinocchio, a substitute for his own son. That same night, the old man looks up into the heavens and wishes for Pinocchio to come to life.

As Geppetto sleeps, The Blue Fairy (Evelyn Venable) appears, waves her wand, and turns the puppet into a conscious being. Although Pinocchio (Dickie Jones) has gained self-awareness, he remains to be a wooden doll. According to the fairy, if Pinocchio can prove that he is brave, truthful, and unselfish, he can become a real boy. Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards), a pocket-sized wanderer, is assigned as Pinocchio’s conscience.

Based on a story by Carlo Collodi, it is no surprise that “Pinocchio” is a great success, continuing to stand the test of time, because the picture consists of a wonderful story about what it means to be human paired with hypnotizing visual acrobatics.

The first third takes place in Geppetto’s house which is filled with wooden creations. The way in which the images are partnered with various sounds made me feel like I was in that quaint little house and interacting the carvings was very possible. Yet despite the many decorations and adornments hung on the wall, there is an undeniable sadness in the house. The creations serve to mask Geppetto’s loneliness: none of the displays can project human feelings no matter how much the old man adores and takes care of them. By flooding our senses with pavonine ornaments, the understated loneliness is subtly underlined and we are able to root for the relationship between Geppetto and Pinocchio and the latter’s quest to become a real live boy.

The middle portion takes place in the streets as Pinocchio is tempted by various shady figures and Jiminy Cricket struggles to keep the boy on track. I was especially impressed with how the film zooms in and out of conversations. For example, when Pinocchio is coaxed by a fox to skip school and become an actor, we observe the shot as if the two characters are right in front of us, not simply colorful moving drawings gracing the screen. Then the picture cuts to the tiny cricket so he can express his concerns and disapproval. Suddenly the crevices on the road and the background are magnified. The switching of perspectives allow us to compare and contrast, if we look closely enough, and appreciate the level of detail put into one or two seconds–and the entire film.

Furthermore, I did not expect the material to touch upon adult themes that go beyond the image of Pinocchio smoking a cigar. At one point, a dubious, burly character talks about collecting naughty little boys and taking them to a place called Pleasure Island. He claims that when the boys leave the island, they are no longer little boys. What exactly does the character mean by that?

“Pinocchio,” directed by Walt Disney, Hamilton Luske, Ben Sharpsteen, et al., oozes intricate artistry when it comes to the visuals as well as thematic control. It is consistent in continuing to surprise us on what it can do and, more importantly, what it is willing to do, whether on land or underwater, by moving our eyes and our hearts.

2 replies »

  1. Pinnochio is a classic, probably not my favourite Disney film, but still very good. Can’t believe I wasn’t freaked out by it as a child though, what with the children transforming into donkeys, the slavery aspect and Pinocchio being eaten by a whale!

    • It freaked ME out… and then I thought, “You’re an adult, Franz. It’s OK.” Hahah! But I think most of the images should go over (young) children’s heads. But I saw this for the first time… only a year ago. I know, right?

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