Disney Animated Marathon: Pinocchio (1940)

pinocchio_7th

Film #2 in the Disney Animated Marathon!

Written By: Aurelius Battaglia, William Cottrell, Otto Englander, Bill Peet, Erdman Penner, Joseph Sabo, Ted Sears & Webb Smith
Directed By: Hamilton Luske & Ben Sharpsteen

For as long as I have been in discussion about movies and been deeply invested in animated films, three movies have been regarded as the original classics. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia and Pinocchio. I’ve already covered Snow white And the Seven Dwarfs and I’ll get to Fantasia in a few weeks. This week the focus is on Pinocchio, the second major feature animated release from Disney. It’s safe to say that Disney opened up with a touchdown in the form of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, but can they repeat the process with Pinocchio?

Sadly, I would say no to the above question. Pinocchio retains the whimsy and magic of its predecessor, but it lacks a cohesive feel. Someone other than myself once pointed out that Pinocchio is essentially a series of set pieces. A series of interesting, lovely, charming, beautifully animated set pieces mind you, but not a complete film. While Pinocchio does touch upon some story elements, it isn’t a story but rather a series of situations for Pinocchio to deal with. By itself that wouldn’t be so bad, but after finishing the film I struggled to come up with a connection to the overall film. I could relate to every set piece on a certain level, but as a collective whole it was hard to connect to a movie that didn’t connect its own pieces together.

Like most Disney features, there are themes and message touched upon in Pinocchio. This time it is the idea of honesty, innocence and bravery. Once again the themes are all delivered rather nicely, but due to the fractured nature of the story none ever holds significant weight. At one moment I felt the movie was going to turn into a tale of how Pinocchio needs to be honest, then it turned into a tale of him needing to be brave, then his need to be trusting, etc.. While all themes can be related to and do work on the most fundamental level, they don’t have any lasting impact beyond the most basic.

Based on what I have written so far I’m sure people are getting the impression that I didn’t like Pinocchio, but that isn’t the case. While Pinocchio has its share of flaws, it is also full of hearty chunks of goodness. The animation comes to mind first, because even in the short time from Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs to Pinocchio you can see a refinement to the animation. Pinocchio features amazing depth provided through plane and level imagery that wasn’t seen in previous animation. The usual detail is present, in the clocks, Figaro, Pinocchio himself, the undersea adventure and more. There are plenty of moments of exquisite animation, although the one area I wish would have been given more detail was the darkness of the animation. Pinocchio is a very dark tale, kids drink and smoke, Pinocchio almost dies and the most extreme, The Coachman and his extremely perverted young boy fetish. The animation never seems to match this darkness and it would have been nice if the animation was darker in places to match the darker tone of some of the characters and set pieces.

Character wise Pinocchio is sweet and innocent, but not all that interesting. That’s not a knock on the character or the film, because in all honesty Pinocchio isn’t lead of the story. That role falls to Jiminy Cricket, and he is undoubtedly one of Disney’s finest creations. Full of wit and charm, he is incredibly affable, smart, funny and the character that helps us to root for Pinocchio. Next to Jiminy my favorite character and the best rendered was Figaro. Such a fun cat, and animated so wonderfully. He expresses more in his face and his body movements than a lot of live action leads do nowadays. It is no surprise that Figaro became the template for the bumbling/innocent sidekick for years to come in Disney films. There isn’t much to say about Geppetto, because while a kindly old man who serves his purpose, he is never given any sort of development. Among the villains Honest John stands out the most, because he is the funniest and the most vicious.

As is the Disney standard, Pinocchio is full of music. Honestly, in Pinocchio I wasn’t taken by the music as much as I have been in other Disney classics. When You Wish Upon A Star is memorable and a classic, but it isn’t actually in the film proper. Outside of that only I’ve Got No Strings stood out to me. The rest were passable, but not memorable to me. I’ve got No Strings on the other hand was a very catchy song that was accompanied by my favorite animated sequence in the whole film.

The sum of Pinocchio does not hold up to the sum of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. But, it does have individual moments and sequences that are better than anything in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs and many other animated features. Pinocchio lacks a cohesive feel, but it possesses the whimsy, fun and good nature that is found in any Disney classic. Of course I will recommend Pinocchio for any fan of Disney, fables, or animation. It is a classic for a reason, and, to borrow from a fellow named _Keith_, I’d rather watch an uneven film than a bad one any day.

Rating:

***

Cheers,
Bill

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