johnlink ranks PINOCCHIO (1940)

When my son Quinn was born, and he is five now, I used that as an excuse to gobble up some early Disney films on Blu Ray that I had never seen before. I was sure to have him introduced to the canon before his first birthday, right? Well, it turns out, kids have a mind all their own. I know, it’s a crazy notion. I had mentioned PINOCCHIO (along with SNOW WHITE and CINDERELLA) ad nauseam since roughly the time he was two. He never bit. Then, out of nowhere, he announced during dinner tonight “I’d like to have a movie night tonight. And I want to watch PINOCCHIO.” I suppose my slow burn had worked. I’d finally get to watch this movie…


I watched PINOCCHIO (1940) on 9.25.15. It was my first viewing of the film.

PINOCCHIO starts out as a cute film about a man who builds a puppet. That man, Geppetto (Christian Rub, who – I hate to inform you – was a Nazi sympathizer loathed by all who worked with him on this film) wishes that the puppet, Pinocchio (Dickie Jones) might become a real boy. A fairy (Evelyn Venable) grants the wish, makes a bug who happens to be around his conscience (Jiminy Cricket, voiced by Cliff Edwards).

The movie starts out all musical numbers and fairies and quaint country workshops. When Pinocchio is sent out to go to school on day one, he is ensnared in a plot to instead go work as at a carnival. He lies about this to the fairy, in one of those scenes that is famous even if you have never seen it, and gets a second chance. He then ends up on Pleasure Island (trust me: more on that in a minute. Lots more) where he learns to behave poorly. He finally redeems himself, saves Geppetto, and becomes a real boy.

Like most Disney movies of its era, PINOCCHIO can be described in a few sentences. It is in the execution of the filmmaking that it becomes so much more.

This is a movie which increases in intensity as it goes. The harbor of the workshop is safe. The walk to school is a little more dangerous. The workplace of Stromboli steps it up a notch. Pleasure Island adds a level of insanity, and the final conflict with the whale, Monstro, is more dangerous.


But Pleasure Island needs some attention. This is a place where a villain brings little boys, turns them into donkeys (or a ‘jackass’ as the movie is sure to let us know) and ships them off to be slaves. Is this an allegory for molestation and the sex trade? That is an easy argument to make. At the least, it is a place where young boys are invited to be hooligans, to smoke, to drink, and to generally live outside the laws of civil society. It is interesting that the most famous moment of PINOCCHIO is from the fallout of his first indiscretion: His lies make his nose grow. But the faults of his trip to Pleasure Island give him the ears and tail of a donkey for the remainder of the film (until he is saved), a punishment far less associated with what we thing of from this story. But Pleasure Island is a truly depraved place, and the most fascinating thing is that the movie never bothers to save the boys brought here. The message is clear: Because Pinocchio follows his conscience (Jiminy) and do a brave thing, he is saved (through a Biblical battle inside a whale, but I digress). The movie has no such sympathy for boys who have no problem being bad: they are summarily shipped off to be slaves and workers for others.

PINOCCHIO is a kids movie with some terribly dark themes. It battles this by wearing its themes on its sleeves. Your conscience is a physical being. When you lie your nose grows. When you embrace depravity you turn into a jackass. But when you do something selfless? You turn into a true human. This is not an unnecessary lesson, but it is certainly a less than subtle one.

PINOCCHIO is good. I bet my son will want to watch it a bunch more. And I am totally cool with that.



The bonus point is for the orchestration. Like many early Disney films, it is fascinating to listen to this film score as it goes as much as it is to watch it.


FINAL SCORE: 7.25 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on September 25, 2015.

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