Sunday, June 14, 2015


(February 1940, U.S.)

Let's begin with a memory and a movie poster. It was during the Summer of 1976 that Walt Disney Pictures released a summer long series of theatrical double features that consisted of a classic Disney animated movie followed by a live action theatrical feature. All were rated G and all were totally safe for little nine year-old such as myself. You see, at that age, exciting blockbuster films like KING KONG, STAR WARS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and SUPERMAN-THE MOVIE were still months or years away, so my film options (or I should say the options that my father was willing to bestow upon me, were very limited, indeed. Therefore, when a nine year-old kid sees a poster such as this in the newspaper, he's apt to get pretty excited about the summer ahead of him...

Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if parents today weren't enticed by this same schedule of double features even in today's movie market! Nonetheless, these were the objects of movie excitement before the spectacular special effects of the late 1970s came our way. I bring all of this up not so much with regards to PINOCCHIO, but rather with PETER PAN (1953). Why do I bring that movie up, you ask? Because it's the solid memory of seeing Disney's animated film of PETER PAN on screen in the Summer of 1976 with my dad's girlfriend that I was clinging to when I thought I would write a post for that film just a short time ago. Alas, though, when I sat down to watch it, I realized that solid memory or not, PETER PAN was just too damn childish for me and I, therefore, chose not to write about it (sorry!). However, PINOCCHIO, while having very similar childish elements and almost identical memories of the Summer of 1976, ends up being an entirely different issue for me. To begin with, I don't think I would necessarily have the fondness for PINOCCHIO that I do were it not for two films of Steven Spielberg. In CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) and A.I.:ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (2001), the theories and spirits of the story of Pinocchio and his ultimate quest to go beyond his superficial being of wood and become a real boy in the human world is very clear and brings a true sense of mystical proportions to it's basic premise. Is that really true in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, though? Maybe not, but it's clear that Roy Neary's journey to go beyond what is the foundation of his own mortal being on Earth brings Pinocchio's story to a better light, as well as the fact that Roy himself has a childhood heart and fondness for the old animated film of 1940 (his three kids, however, do not!). Little David's story in A.I. speaks for itself, of course. So you see, these two films with a rather obvious adult tone to Pinocchio's original premise brings the original animated film to a better light for someone like me who generally does not have consistent fondness or patience for "kiddie" films.

As innocent as PINOCCHIO is at its surface, it's also impossible to deny that there is a dark side to the film. One can argue that the sweet, innocent son of the sweet, innocent wood carver Geppetto is essentially abducted on his way to his first day of school by two heartless con men (well, a fox and a cat, actually!) and sold off like cruel human trafficking. Still, he's just a puppet who can walk, talk, sing and dance, so perhaps the level of sympathy towards the wooden boy isn't quite there yet. However, by the time he's held prisoner in a cage by fat 'ol Stromboli, we do start to feel for the poor kid (sorry - puppet!). Later on in the film, when Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket are traveling to Pleasure Island, there is downright terror involved when all the boys are succumbed to some unnatural transformation that turns them all into donkeys. As an adult, one can only presume that the food, alcohol and tobacco they've consumed is somehow harmfully drugged. You see...this is some real dark shit we're talking about, but hardly the kind of material a child is going to understand. To the innocent child who watches this film, the simple lesson is that bad boys who skip school, smoke, get drunk and cause destruction are going to end up becoming real jackasses (at least that's the intended lesson of 1940!)! Still, the boys who have succumb to the evil transformation are not going to be saved, nor will they ever see their parents again and will eventually be sold to slavery. Again, dark and frightening stuff for an animated Disney cartoon!

Finally, there's the entire sequence of Monstro the giant whale and it's obvious homage to Herman Melville's MOBY DICK. This is a dark sequence by its own right in the simple fact that a loving, innocent family (cat and goldfish included!) are going to die in the gaping jaws of the whale unless brave little Pinocchio can save them. Of course, since the wooden boy's ultimate goal is to prove himself brave, truthful and unselfish in order to become a real boy, the final outcome hardly needs guessing. Though for the life of me, I cannot account for how Geppetto ends up at sea in the first place! We know that he went out looking for Pinocchio, but how the hell did he end up at sea while doing it?? Makes absolutely no sense to me! Even if one could argue that he was, perhaps, following the ship that took the boys to Pleasure Island, we're given no indication in the film that Geppetto is even aware of this threat. I realize suspension of disbelief is very necessary when watching any film of fantasy, but I mean, really, come on!!!

And so, now that I've broken down the legendary film of Disney's PINOCCHIO to its basic raw elements of darkness and evil, tell me something...have I fucked up your childhood yet??

Favorite line or dialogue:

Pinocchio: "I'd rather be smart than be an actor!"

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