Pinocchio (1940) – Norman Ferguson, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, and Ben Sharpsteen

DK Canada’s The Movie Book invites me to continue my exploration of early Disney films following its recommendation of What Else to Watch for my screening of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This time it is Walt’s incarnation of the classic tale of the little wooden boy who wanted to be human, Pinocchio.

The characters have become classics, from Figaro the cat, Cleo the fish, the endearing Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards), Geppetto (Christian Rub) and of course the little wooden boy himself (Dickie Jones). Mel Blanc also turned in a few voices for the film, including the playful Figaro!

The story explores what it is to be human, the idea of honouring one’s parents, and the dangers of lying. Of course, Pinnochio falls afoul of trouble, as he is tempted by ‘Honest’ John (Walter Catlett) to follow the ‘easy road to success’ – and become an actor.

The young wooden boy is imprisoned by the evil Stromboli (Charles Judels), despite countless warnings by his conscience, Jiminy. After an encounter with the Blue Fairy (Evelyn Venable) the duo get away from the performer, but find themselves in even more trouble as the youngster ends up on the nefarious Pleasure Island.

The film is able to walk the line between delightful naivete and some truly sinister imagery – the transformation scene is frightening.

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The story ends up being about family, love, and honesty and the sacrifices we make for them, good and bad.

Featuring “When You Wish Upon a Star,” one of the first Disney songs to truly sink into and root within the public consciousness, the film remains iconic and is filled with an innocence and honesty that still resonates through the young and the young at heart.

There are a couple of other iconic songs that make their appearance, Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee and I’ve Got No Strings, and this marked the first time that a Disney film won Oscars for Best Score and Best Song.

The hand drawn animation, the underwater effects, and the visual sense of storytelling all fit with the Disney style, which was still finding its way at this point. The character designs fit in beautifully with what came before it, and what came after.

The fairy tale quality of the film as Pinocchio goes on his hero’s journey plays subtly within the story. Sometimes it seems to want to hit the viewer over the head with moral statements but it never loses the beauty of its story, nor eschews the opportunity for an enjoyable character beat.

Pinocchio has never been my favourite Disney film, but it is a landmark film for the studio that endures to this day.

The Disney fun will continue as I delve deeper into DK Book’s The Movie Book next time!

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