Serg Beret’s Best Disney Animated Films – #3 Pinocchio (1940)

Directed by Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton Luske (Sequences Directed by Bill Roberts, Norman Ferguson, Jack Kinney, Wilfred Jackson and T. Hee)

The second film produced by Walt Disney is perhaps the one that seemed to make Disney start to take risk. with the success of Snow White years prior, Disney decided to tackle Pinocchio along with the same team that helped bring that film to life and what was brought to the screen was a Disney take on a dark story. Pinocchio paved the way for what the Disney company would be become and certain aspects the company would continue to embrace.

Gepetto (Christain Rub) is a woodworker by trade in his wood shop. One day, Gepetto feeling alone despite having his trusty pet Figaro the cat and Cleo the goldfish decides to make create a wooden puppet named Pinocchio (Dickie Jones). Having made his creation, he wishes to the star above for Pinocchio to become a real boy. The Blue Fairy (Evelyn Venable) decides to do just so, only he is still wooden and will only become human if he is unselfish, honest and courageous. With this, she lets Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards) be Pinocchio’s conscience and his guide.

Gepetto wakes up to his new wooden boy ready to get him started on his new life only to be distracted by a fox named Honest John (Walter Catlett) and his cat friend Gideon tricking him to join the actor’s life. From there, Pinochio meets the wicked puppeteer Stromboli (Charles Judels) where he must prove to be honest, collides with the Coachman (Judels) and his terrors on Pleasure Island nearly turning into a donkey and having to face off against the horrific whale Monstro in order to save and be reunited with his father. Through these obstacles, his bravery, honesty and selfless nature are tested to prove that he can be a real boy of flesh and blood.

It was only the second full-length animated feature for the company and it nearly exceeds what Snow White had brought to the table with precision and style. It is a remarkable take on the genre by allowing itself to risk all and get downright dark at times. This movie pulls no punches in what it wants to show. It shows what it is like to be kidnapped, what it is like to be tricked and the bad things that can happen if one does not stick to their true self. Even the imagery is menacing with the Coachman’s grin being startling, kids drinking and smoking to transform into jackasses and even Monstro himself being a terrible sight. Many in the audience at the time where terrified during these parts and it is no wonder because it is generally creepy as hell. To this day, I still get chills when Lampwick begins to turn into the jackass he admittedly was.

It takes what was established in Snow White and comes into its own by defining what made that film work and testing the waters with it. Even the music follows the same lead as the previous effort, but one would be lying if they knew every song besides “When You Wish Upon a Star” brilliantly sung by Cliff Edwards and opens the film. It’s a gorgeous song and basically the theme to this day for Disney when their films open up, be it for MoanaFinding Nemo or D2: The Mighty Ducks (a bit of a reach, but hey, it’s there). It is Disney’s mantra and has been since the film’s release encompassing the wishes of everyone and the thoughts we all have when we are younger. Luckily, we all know we still have to work hard to make them come true and not rely on a simple hope. In fact, this film actually shows Pinocchio working to make it a reality, so The Princess and the Frog may have been forward about it, but Pinocchio took the subtle approach with their message. Good job, Disney. To be able to accomplish such an idea is remarkable. Anyway, Pinocchio is one of the best, even if it isn’t the one that started it all…that’s a story for our next entry.

Critic’s Quote: ““Pinocchio” is a parable for children, and generations have grown up remembering the words “Let your conscience be your guide” and “A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face.” The power of the film is generated, I think, because it is really about something. It isn’t just a concocted fable or a silly fairy tale, but a narrative with deep archetypal reverberations.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, November 22, 1998 as part of his Great Movies Selections (Ebert, you picked a great one.)

Signature Moment: When Pinocchio finally becomes a real boy. It’s hopeful and beautiful in how rewarding it is.


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