In 1937, Disney broke new ground and took one of the biggest gambles in cinematic history by producing the first feature-length animated cartoon. Nothing like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (or “Disney’s Folly” as some called it) had been seen before, with many believing it would fail big time. After all, who was going to want to sit through an 80-minute cartoon? Luckily Disney had the last laugh as it was massively successful, bringing in a boatload of profit for the studio. The problem became: How in the world do you follow it up? Walt’s answer was simply to pour those profits into upgrading every part of his animation department and plow full steam ahead with a new animated story, leading to the development of another one of the studio’s beloved classics, “Pinocchio.”
“Pinocchio” tells the story of a toymaker, Geppetto (Voice of Christian Rub), who lives with his cat Figaro and his goldfish Cleo. His most recent creation is a little wooden marionette that he names Pinocchio, whom he wishes was a real boy. That night, before going to sleep, he makes this very wish upon a bright wishing star, which brings down the Blue Fairy (Voice of Evelyn Venable) to make it come true. However, she only brings Pinocchio (Voice of Dickie Jones) to life as a little wooden boy, telling him that he has to be honest and brave to become real. Luckily, a visiting cricket, Jiminy (Voice of Cliff Edwards), volunteers to be his conscience and help him stay on the straight and narrow. As Geppetto is sending Pinocchio to school the very next day, the boy and his conscience are put to the test right away when a sly fox, Honest John (Voice of Walter Catlett), hatches a plot to sell Pinocchio to a showman, which is merely the beginning of the adventurous road ahead.
Indeed “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” has long been considered a classic, and while I do consider it a good film, I wasn’t quite able to call it “great” in my review of the recent Blu-ray due to its episodic structure. However, I also mentioned that Disney would improve upon this in their very next feature, which just happens to be “Pinocchio.” For their second outing, Disney would go deeper into the story department than they had on their debut feature, adapting a story by Carlo Collodi that acts as a morality tale and a warning against bad behavior, lying, and vices.
Sure, it wears these themes right on its sleeves, but it’s a film for kids, so you can’t expect them to be planted very deeply into the narrative. That being said, the writers still managed somehow to turn it into a film that’s not particularly preachy, but instead full of fun, adventure, action, and even a small dose of horror (what else would you call boys getting kidnapped and transformed into donkeys?). It’s the kind of film that has a great message to it, but it’s also the kind that’s going to keep you very much entertained while it’s delivering it, almost to the point where you forget it’s trying to teach you something.
Of course, as with most of Disney’s classics, a review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the unforgettable music. What some people might not know is that “Pinocchio” was the very first Disney feature to win the popular Oscar pairing of Best Score and Best Song, a feat that would later be repeated by other classics like “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “The Lion King.” While “When You Wish upon a Star” was the song that took the Oscar, the film features several more memorable tunes such as “Little Wooden Head,” “Give a Little Whistle,” “Hi Diddle Dee Dee,” and “I’ve Got No Strings.” As with all great Disney films, you’re bound to be whistling/humming/singing a number of these catchy songs when you’re done getting swept up in the enchanting story.
All-in-all, “Pinocchio” is what I consider to be Disney’s first great feature that truly showed what the studio was capable of in terms of story, characters, animation, and music. Even at 77 years old, the film still holds up marvelously today as a grand adventure that both kids and adults can enjoy, even with its morality message in full frontal view of the audience. Obviously there was still a lot of Disney greatness to come, but their second feature set the bar pretty high. As it was before, the studio was left with the simple question to answer: Where do they go from here? As audiences would soon see, the answer was more ambitious than ever.
“Pinocchio” returns to Blu-ray in a gorgeous 1.33:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. The animation has been marvelously restored, bringing out the film’s bright, vibrant colors and making it look the best it ever has. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is outstanding, giving you all of the dialogue, in addition to the unforgettable score and songs, in fantastic quality. Overall, the film’s restoration has been a grand success, ensuring that it will continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.
Audio Commentary: An excellent commentary with Leonard Maltin, Eric Goldberg, and J.B. Kaufman (as well as some of the filmmakers who worked on the project) in which they give you tons of fascinating background info on the film.
The Pinocchio Project: “When You Wish Upon a Star” (3 Minutes): A pointless featurette about artists doing their own spin on the infamous song.
Walt’s Story Meetings: Pleasure Island (7 Minutes): A fascinating vocal recreation of story meetings about the Pleasure Island sequence. Also features conceptual drawings and interviews with animation experts.
In Walt’s Words: Pinocchio (5 Minutes): A collection of interviews with Walt Disney from 1956 in which he discusses the film.
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in “Poor Papa” (5 Minutes): A very old B&W cartoon featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
No Strings Attached: The Making of Pinocchio (56 Minutes): An excellent behind the scenes look at the making of the film, featuring a multitude of interviews with critics, historians, and artists.
Deleted Scenes (11 Minutes): A collection of three deleted sequences that includes the story of Pinocchio’s grandfather, another scene inside the whale, and an alternate ending.
The Sweatbox (6 Minutes): A featurette that takes a look at the animation process, which included Disney giving his critical opinion in a small screening room known as “The Sweatbox.”
Geppettos Then and Now (11 Minutes): A featurette that explores toymakers from around the world.
Live-Action Reference Footage (10 Minutes): A fascinating look at how live-action reference footage was created for the film.
A Wish Come True: The Making of Pinocchio (5 Minutes): A brief vintage featurette that takes a look at the making of the film.
Storyboard-to-Film Final Comparison (4 Minutes)
When You Wish Upon a Star Music Video by Meaghan Jette Martin
With its marvelous mixture of an engaging story, beautiful animation, loveable characters, and unforgettable music, “Pinocchio” remains a grand adventure that both kids and adults can still enjoy today. It may wear its message of following the straight and narrow on its sleeves, but that doesn’t come close to stopping audiences from getting swept up in its delightful narrative. With its re-release on Blu-ray, there’s no better time to grab it while you can and add it to the other distinguished releases of Disney’s animated classics.
Available on Special Edition Blu-ray starting tomorrow.