Pinocchio Movie Review (1940 Disney Animation)
The House of Mouse’s second feature-length movie is a shortened adaptation of the 1883 novel “The Adventures of Pinocchio”.
Genre: Animation / Adventure / Comedy / Drama
Supervising Directors: Ben Sharpsteen & Hamilton Luske.
Sequence Directors: Bill Roberts, Jack Kinney, Norman Ferguson, T. Hee & Wilfred Jackson.
Cast: Dickie Jones, Cliff Edwards, Christian Rub, Walter Catlett, Charles Judels, Frankie Darro, Evelyn Venable & Stuart Buchanan.
Run Time: 88 min.
US Release: 23 February 1940
UK Release: 13 May 1940
German Release: 23 March 1951
Welcome to my “Throwback Thursday” review for the original animated Disney movie Pinocchio, from 1940. I was struggling to figure out when to post this one, as Guillermo del Toro's Netflix version will premiere later in October. Finally, I figured it would be best to write my review between the Disney live-action remake and Netflix’s own version of Carlo Collodi’s Italian children’s tale. This is the second animated feature by Walt Disney studios, distributed by RKO Radio Pictures and produced after the success of Snow White & the Seven Dwarves.
— WARNING, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! —
Inventor and toy-maker Gepetto creates a wooden marionette called Pinocchio. The puppet is brought to life by a fairy, after a wish made by the carpenter. Appointing Jiminy Cricket to act as Pinocchio's "conscience", as well as declaring that the wooden boy should lead a virtuous life to become real, Pinocchio keeps deviating from his path, getting into trouble more than once. Jiminy’s job becomes increasingly stressful, as the living puppet will simply not listen to him until Geppetto goes missing with Pinocchio making the ultimate sacrifice.
As with Snow White three years earlier, this animated film is based on a children’s novel, written by Carlo Collodi in 1883. The book was read by Walt Dinsey himself, during the production of Snow White and immediately intended to be adapted as the third movie of Walt Disney studios, after the release of Bambi. However, due to difficulties adapting the story with animation of realistic animals, Disney moved production for Pinocchio ahead, appointing Ben Sharpsteen as supervisor, while Jack Kinney obtained directorial rights.
Deciding that the puppet from the books was too unlikeable, the writing crew modernised Pinocchio’s personality, by injecting him with similar traits as Charlie McCarthy, who was Edgar Bergen’s ventriloquist dummy partner. Nonetheless, the character would maintain his uncontrollable energy, which gets him mostly into trouble. The plot itself was taken from the episodic novel and shortened down to fit the runtime of the picture, but compromised on a rushed ending. The dark atmosphere of the book was mostly kept, including one of the most unsettling sequences on Pleasure Island, while the message for children was polished-up.
The dialogues are mostly child-friendly plus easy to follow. Jiminy teaches Pinocchio about behavioural and moral issues, with the puppet usually replies with questions about specific words that he needs to have explained. On the other hand, there is quite a lot of aggressiveness in tone, as well as swearing once or twice, usually connected with something bad happening right after, meant to signal a warning for kids.
The lead character of Pinocchio himself was voiced by Dick Jones, who gave the character an energetically young and charismatic vocal tone. The child-like animation led to the wooden boy obtaining his naive personality, which in turn worried Walt that the stringless marionette wouldn't make it in the world by himself. Pinocchio’s personality was also altered from the original tale itself, which depicted him as being rude, unlikeable plus unthankful. Writers were afraid that it would make it hard to root for such a character and make him cheerfully happy.
The cricket originally was meant to die accidentally, as in the novel, yet it was ultimately turned into a bigger character, naming him Jimny, after Disney’s concerns that Pinocchio is too gullible and would need help manoeuvring life itself. Jiminy is wise, giving the wooden boy good advice about life. He also has electric chemistry with the lead, selling their growing friendship. He is voiced by veteran musician Cliff Edwards.
Geppetto himself, voice-acted by Christian Rub, is a father to Pinocchio yet was kept simple and has little to no backstory. He is meant to symbolise the puppet's heart, though has limited screen time, thus it is hard to care for his fate, once it is revealed that Monstro swallowed him.
This animated flick has one of the largest collections of villains in a Disney film. Honest John and his colleague Gideon the cat, are taken straight from the fable where they are anthropomorphic animals themselves. The “friendliest” of the villains, John is a cunning fox, who uses his intelligence to confuse Pinocchio. Stromboli, in the original named Mangiafuoco, is the first really scary villain, kidnapping the marionette plus threatening to hack it into firewood if it doesn’t do what it’s told. Finally, we have the mysterious Coachman, who while not physically threatening, evokes a creepy aura.
Using groundbreaking achievements in animations, the background drawings include incredible details, making the world of Pinocchio feel alive and rich. The main character had several animators, who originally drew him as a typical marionette to Walt’s disappointment. It was finally Milt Kahn, who came up with the idea to imagine a boy, adding puppet features to the design later on. Jiminy was designed as a little bald man, without ears. Three-dimensional clay models of the characters were formed by Joe Grant, so the staff could observe how the characters should look from different angles.
The music, composed by Leigh Harline, as well as Pail J. Smith, includes the song “When you Wish Upon A Star” sung by Cliff Edwards as Jiminy Cricket, resulting in an instant hit. The melody later became the music for the Walt Disney logo itself. The incidental music score underlines certain dramatic or comedic actions made by characters and melds well into the background.
Verdict: Walt Disney’s second animated feature Pinocchio, is without a question one of the greatest classic productions from the studio. While cutting the book's story down and rushing the ending, it never compromised on its darker themes and ruder language. In fact, none of the villains were punished for their actions, they simply disappeared without any repercussions. The acting is good, with Dick Jones and Cliff Edwards creating some of Disney’s most memorable voices. Gepetto sadly gets too short a screen time, nullifying the emotional punch in the third act, when Pinocchio goes searching for his father. The animation is still gorgeous to look at cementing the look of the studio’s golden age. Finally, the music by Harline and Smith contains some of the most memorable of all Disney works. All in all, Pinocchio is a solid Disney classic, worth an 8.5 out of 10.
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