Daniel: 1940 brought about Walt Disney’s iteration of the little wooden puppet who longed to become a real boy. In the process he created characters, music and industry standards that are still recognized and revered just as much today as they were over 70 years ago. Pinocchio was the second full length animated feature created by Walt Disney on the heels of his wildly successful first attempt Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Disney maintains their position as the premier producer of animated film because of a long standing dedication to creating personal and relatable characters that are sympathetic and loveable. Not only did they pioneer modern animation, but they have very nearly perfected it. Even in Pinocchio while still relatively new to the animated movie business, Disney insisted on creating characters that were far more relatable than they were realistic. This is most evident in the appearance of Jiminy Cricket who, in all honesty, looks more like a small man than a bug. Pinocchio explores quite a few different themes as it follows the wooden puppet who strives to abide by the moral grounds laid by his conscience. In his effort to become a real boy, Pinocchio is faced with trials and temptations that embody themselves in individuals universally recognized as the “kids your mom warned you about.”

Paul: Seeing Pinocchio now, as an adult with a much better appreciation for film, is kind of an overwhelming experience. It’s pretty much universally acknowledged as the best that animation has to offer, and I grew up with its story. With those expectations riding on it, would it still impress me? Well, yes, and then some. During a recent viewing, I had occasion to think to myself, “This is already a masterpiece, and Pinocchio hasn’t even come to life yet.” Of course, the opening gives us Jiminy Cricket and “When You Wish Upon a Star.” But what really struck me was the beauty and detail of the animation. Who can forget all those clocks? The Disney animators were determined to challenge themselves, to outdo Snow White in every way. Figaro and Cleo emerge as interesting and memorable characters without ever saying a word. Best of all is seeing Geppetto at play with his new marionette. Through the joy of puppeteering, Pinocchio truly comes to life, but in an entirely different way from what’s about to happen. It’s extraordinary.
There will be plenty of time to talk about the story and themes, but first, what are some visual elements that particularly stand out to you?

Daniel: You touched on the most visually captivating scene when you mentioned the clock sequence. To this day there may not be a similar example in regards to insanely detailed animation; each clock had its own personality that was capable of interacting with the scene itself, not simply content to sit in the background. Another scene, or rather setting, that I found particularly captivating was “Pleasure Island.” Like the scene with the clocks, there is just a ton going on. Hundreds, if not thousands of little boys running rampant with no discipline at all. I remember seeing this movie when I was younger and feeling a strong sense of enticement towards what the boys got to do. It looked like a blast! At the same time, I felt a sense of horror, what they were doing was wrong. It looked wrong, it felt wrong. The ability to capture both of these elements in the same frame is a powerful tool, one that worked to the advantage of the overall message of the film. Consequently, the scene where Lampwick transforms into a donkey is absolutely terrifying, as it was no doubt meant to be.

Paul: That’s still one of the scariest scenes ever. The range of emotions in this movie is huge. Pinocchio goes through a series of traumatic experiences, each worse than the last: 1) being locked in a cage, enslaved by Stromboli 2) watching his new best friend turn into a donkey and almost becoming one himself 3) getting swallowed by a whale. Accompanying these are of course fear, regret over bad decisions, and loneliness. The journey to becoming a real boy is outrageously difficult, although from a kid’s perspective it can feel a lot like this. Thankfully, there are light moments as well. The humor is absolutely timeless. Jiminy and the villainous fox and cat are equally delightful to me. As you mentioned, a number of emotions can come out of a single scene, a single shot. When Geppetto goes out into the rainy night to find Pinocchio, Figaro and Cleo are all set to enjoy dinner, fish for Figaro and cake (!) for Cleo. It looks so incredibly delicious, and naturally the cat has a napkin tied around its neck. But they won’t be allowed to eat until Pinocchio is found.

Daniel: The beautiful animation is stunning; with it, emotions are catapulted onto the viewing audience. The scene where Lampwick is transformed, as you stated, is horrifying. Just as strong as the fear that you mentioned is the humor. For me, the funniest moment in the entire movie is the sly fox’s realization that Pinocchio is a little wooden boy. It is, in my opinion, the best “double take” in film history, thanks to great voice acting and fantastically illustrated animation. Truly great film is always capable of taking the audience to the heights of their emotions; Pinocchio does just that. We are introduced to a character who is created innocent in a scary world full of temptation. We see him struggle, we see him fail and ultimately we see him victorious. It would be a mistake to pigeonhole this film into the category of a great “animated film” as if it were somehow less impressive than a traditionally acted movie. What aspects of this movie would you say make it a truly great film other than its fantastic animation?

Paul: That’s a very interesting question. I’m tempted to act like this is a presidential debate and just talk about what I want to talk about instead of giving a straight answer. Pinocchio does a lot of things with animation that would be very difficult in live action. I’m thinking especially of the early uninterrupted shot that begins by the bell tower, moves through the streets of the village and ends at Geppetto’s front door, where Pinocchio rushes out in anticipation of his first day of school. With techniques like that, I think it’s fair to say that Disney was aiming for the same kind of respectability live action had at the time. Today, I think animation is given a lot more respect; it’s not really stereotyped as just for kids anymore. But you’re absolutely right that this is a great movie, period. It wouldn’t be the same without animation, to be sure, but what it has beyond the beautiful drawings is a story that’s pretty much a blueprint for great drama. Each test of Pinocchio’s virtue and courage raises the intensity, until Monstro pushes him as far as he can go.
To ask you the same question, what non-animation elements did you find most impressive?

Daniel: Aside from the animation, I would have to say the music was the most impressive aspect. Not only did “When You Wish A Upon a Star” become Disney’s theme song, but it set the bar for music in animated features. The musical numbers were a lot of fun and all contributed to the story with the correct emotional weight behind each one describing in perfect detail what the characters were feeling. But it was the musical score that stood out as a decidedly full feature aspect of the film. The score added emotion to each scene and could have just as easily been used in a live action version of the same movie. Animation has always relied heavily on music, but in Pinocchio the score becomes just as much a part of the film as the animation. Through it we are given cues on what emotions we are supposed to feel, cues that are almost subconscious thanks to the masterful blend of excellent storytelling with even more impressive film making. I can tell there is a ton about this movie you want to talk about, so I’ll let you lead the discussion next.

Paul: We have to talk about what’s probably the most famous scene, and the action that’s synonymous with the word “Pinocchio” — lying. For starters, on my most recent viewing the moment when Stromboli slams the door hit me harder than I remember it ever hitting me before. He leaves Pinocchio in the cage in the dark room, and suddenly it’s crystal clear just how trapped and isolated Pinocchio has become, without any warning whatsoever. Stromboli, as it turns out, isn’t really interested in the ethical conundrum of owning a puppet that seems human. But the fall for Pinocchio from having a successful job to being a helpless slave couldn’t have happened any faster. So when he lies to the Blue Fairy about how he got in this mess, the emotions he’s going through make the lying understandable. The gist of the story he makes up is that it wasn’t actually his choice to become an actor; he was kidnapped. He denies responsibility for his choice, and he has to learn to accept responsibility as well as tell the truth. But I also noticed how much fun he has telling the story. I can see his imagination working. We have to remember that Pinocchio is really just a day old at this point. So he might be lying to make himself look better, but there might also be an element of trying something he’s never tried before. He’s discovering the power of words! Maybe I’m reading a lot into it, but it’s interesting. What are some of your thoughts about that scene?

Daniel: That scene has always resonated with me as the most helpless scene in the movie; at least when Pinocchio is in Monstro’s gut he’s with his family. Here it’s just him and his conscience, who is completely incapable of helping his escape. Pinocchio, for the first time in his life, faces the fact that he will die some day (or at least be turned into firewood). Consequences abound in Stromboli’s little wagon. Shortly after Pinocchio realizes he’s become subject to a life of cruelty due to his lack of responsibility and ignoring his conscience, he learns the dangerous slippery slope that is created by lies. You brought up an interesting point, and that’s just how eagerly the lies come out of Pinocchio’s mouth. At first it’s simply a way to avoid getting into more trouble than he already is. As one lie follows another it becomes easier to tell a lie than to tell the truth. It isn’t until a family of blue birds has taken residence on his enormous nose that Pinocchio understands the importance of telling the truth. Lies have a tendency to grow. This became physically evident in this scene as the lie grew bigger, so did the nose.

Paul: And it’s also not until those blue birds appear that Pinocchio finally realizes the lying isn’t doing him any good. Clearly, for anyone who’s even vaguely familiar with this scene, the imagery is unforgettable, a perfect metaphor for how dishonesty creates bigger and bigger problems. Jiminy didn’t do such a good job of being Pinocchio’s conscience in that scene. Actually, he finds himself frustrated throughout the film. Jiminy’s a very interesting character, though, because he fills a number of roles: the narrator, a participant in the story, and a symbol for part of Pinocchio’s soul. Maybe it’s because of that third role that we can accept his easily breathing underwater near the end. As we’ve said, he’s essential to the story for the humor, and he’s essential to Pinocchio as a teacher and companion.
So there’s the artistry, the story and characters, and the moral lessons. Unlike for many movies, it’s almost impossible to separate those three. They are all part of a complete whole. Some of the most beautiful scenes convey both dramatic character development and a warning about various vices. However, there is so much beauty, such delightful characters, that I don’t walk away from this movie fixated on the finger-wagging about smoking and playing pool. The movie is skillful enough to carry me through every development, up until that great death-and-resurrection finale. Some of the best Disney movies are all about growing up, asking the questions: what will it take to become a grownup? when does that have to happen? does what you gain from it outweigh what you lose? Pinocchio has good answers, but more importantly it dispenses those answers with a healthy dose of magic.


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One Response to “Pinocchio”

  1. Disney Animation Roundup: My Ten Favorites | Infinite Crescendo Says:

    […] (See also the “Gaffer MacGuffin” discussion on this movie) […]

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