Friday, November 30, 2012

Ice Age (2002) - Take a Trip Back in Time with Sid and Manny

Ice Age: In which We are Introduced to Sid, Manny, Diego - and Most Important of All, Scrat

Ice Age 2002
"Ice Age" (2002).
Twentieth Century Fox doesn't do a slew of animation pictures, but when they do one, they tend to do it right. Fox Animation hit one out of the park with "Ice Age" (2002), a tale about assorted prehistoric mammals faced with new challenges when things start getting colder. Directed by Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha from a story by was one of the surprise hits of 2002 and led to several enormously popular sequels.

Scrat looking to hide his acorn in Ice Age 2002
Scrat became a Phenomenon.
A saber-toothed squirrel, Scrat (voiced by Chris Wedge, though Scrat doesn't speak, just makes sounds), is trying to find a place to store his prized acorns. Innocently, he tries pounding them into the icy ground, which suddenly splits open beneath him, causing a rift that rapidly grows until it extends to the horizon. This sets off an avalanche and other disasters.  Then, Scrat is stepped on by a herd of fleeing animals, all heading south. It's turning into a really bad day for Scrat, but he perseveres, continuing at intervals throughout the film to try and bury the acorns, without much success.

Scrat pounding his acorn into the ground in Ice Age 2002
Scrat is always trying to bury his nuts.
Nearby, Sid (John Leguizamo), a wisecracking, clumsy sloth, is attacked by two large rhinoceros-like beasts. He is saved by Manny (Ray Romano), a deadpan, cynical mammoth who sends them packing. Sid and Manny become friends and team up.

The human tribe in Ice Age 2002
The humans, who don't stick around long. Oh... and nice threads.
Meanwhile, Soto (Goran Visnjic) also is nearby.  He is a Smilodon, a fierce line of big cats kind of like sabertooth tigers. He has a grudge against a tribe of humans and plans on raiding their camp, carrying off the chief's baby son and eating him. After an attack fails to produce the child, Soto sends his malevolent crony Diego (Denis Leary) off to kidnap the baby for him.

Sid and the human child in Ice Age 2002
The cute human baby.
Sid and Manny wander into Soto's realm and stumble upon the chief's baby and his mother, who together have escaped from Soto by jumping over a waterfall. The mother mysteriously disappears, leaving the baby in Manny's care. Looking for the father, they can't find him - the humans' camp is deserted. Instead, they run into Diego, who is overjoyed at his good fortune. Not knowing Diego's true motives, they all join up until Diego guilefully guides them into an ambush. The three animals bond during their journey, but the final showdown with Soto looms.

Sid and the human child in Ice Age 2002
Sid takes good care of the child.
While a comedy with many historically impossible aspects, "Ice Age" is a great introduction to many animals that have long been extinct. Apparently, the producers brought in experts to help select the animals to use, and those experts had only one ultimate bottom line: no dinosaurs, which had died out long before. Thankfully for scientific integrity, there is not a Brontosaurus or T. Rex to be seen - not, at least, until they were introduced in one of the sequels.

Diego leading the others through the snow in Ice Age 2002
Diego Points the Way.
The likable characters will amuse children, while very few adults will recognize all the animals. There are a few pop-cultural references thrown in for laughs, such as a crashed flying saucer and asides about global warming. Combined with state-of-the-art computer animation, this is a very sophisticated film that isn't your usual "The Smurfs" "Hey, we're in New York!" set-up. Anyone should find something to like in this film which is voiced mostly by well-known tv character actors.

Manny, Diego, Sid and the human baby in Ice Age 2002
It's nice that they take such good care of the baby.
The best thing about the film, quite simply, is that it is gorgeous. The DVD transfer is as good as any on the market, and the Dolby surround sound will make you glad you invested in all those speakers. It has a less cartoony feel than "Shrek" or "Monsters, Inc.," to which it is often compared. However, don't be put off by that: it isn't one of those moralistic tales that try to tell kids how they should live or tries to teach them paleontology.

Scrat Ice Age 2002

"Ice Age" just gives simple insight into how people act in order to get along. A straightforward tale of relationships between animals who are well-rounded and develop as the film progresses, the film is a lot of fun. Many will find the minor character Scrat the real star of the film and the one they like the most. The knowing wise-cracks by the other animals about their own futures will entertain kids and adults alike.

Scrat Ice Age 2002
Scrat is the real star of "Ice Age."
Adults, though, may take extra delight from sequences in the film that remind them of the old "Roadrunner" cartoons of Chuck Jones. These references are a worthy tribute to Jones (which apparently was intended). More than that, "Ice Age" is one of the top animation films to date, which served as the foundation for one of the top animation franchises of all time, right behind "Shrek" and ahead of "Toy Story" in total grosses. This should be at the front of the shelf, right beside those classic animation films.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) - Underrated Gem from Wes Anderson

Fantastic Mr. Fox - It Has Bill Murray, so it Has That Going for It

Fantastic Mr. Fox
"Fantastic Mr. Fox" (2009).
Based on a 1970 novel by famed children's book author , "Fantastic Mr. Fox" (2009) is much more Wes Anderson and than it is Dahl. This film will appeal to adults as well as the children at which it is aimed. Characters smoke, "cuss," and do all the things that real people do that generally don't turn up in children's animation. If you are familiar with Anderson's work, you know to expect a lot of dry comedy and weird juxtapositions, and that is exactly what you get in "Fantastic Mr. Fox."

Mr. Fox reading in Fantastic Mr. Fox
Mr. Fox, Man of the World.
Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and his wife Felicity (Meryl Streep) like to raid farms in their spare time, but Fox's real job is as a newspaper columnist. After having a son, he decides to upgrade his family's living quarters from a hole in the ground to a tree despite warnings from his lawyer Badger (Bill Murray) that he is inviting danger. He also gives up his thieving ways for the sake of family stability. Fox's nephew Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) comes to live with them, but Fox's son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) doesn't like Kristofferson because everyone dotes on him due to his excellence at sports.

Mr. Fox riding a motorcycle in Fantastic Mr. Fox
Just because you're a fox doesn't mean you can't have fun.
Fox eventually tires of dull "lawful" life, so he and his friend Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky) take to stealing from the three farmers who live nearby: Walter Boggis (Robin Hurlstone); Nathan Bunce (Hugo Guinness); and Franklin Bean (Michael Gambon), or "Boggis, Bunce and Bean" as Fox calls them. The farmers set a trap for Fox and shoot at him, but he manages to escape at the cost of his tail. Frustrated, the farmers dig into Fox's home, but he escapes through an emergency tunnel.

Mr. Fox in work clothes in Fantastic Mr. Fox
The name's Fox... Mr. Fox.
Fox decides to strike back. He enlists his friends to dig a tunnel to the farms so they can steal from them easier. Ash and Kristofferson surface to recover Fox's tail, but Kristofferson is captured.

Mr. Fox turning around in front of his desk in Fantastic Mr. Fox
Mr. Fox is proud of his study.
The fighting escalates. The farmers flood the animals' tunnels with cider, forcing Fox and friends into the sewers. Fox finds out where Kristofferson is being held and asks the farmer for a meeting. They agree to an exchange, but everybody double-crosses each other and Ash must prove he has matured in order to free Kristofferson.

Mr. and Mrs. Fox in Fantastic Mr. Fox
Mrs. Fox is the Perfect Wife.
The interplay between the animals is witty and fun, and the stop-motion animation - 20th Century Fox's first - is superb. The colors are autumnal, all yellows, oranges, and browns, giving the film a very soft feel. They are earth tones, in accordance with the fact that our heroes live... underground.

Film poster for Fantastic Mr. Fox
Let's have a party... underground.
Three venerable tunes by Burl Ives were used. This is an obvious and much-appreciated nod to the seasonal stop-motion classic holiday special from Rankin/Bass, "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," in which Burl Ives voiced the narrator, Sam the Snowman. There is some action, including a fight to the death, which might scare some younger viewers. The film strains somewhat to imbue Fox with a James Bond vibe (Dahl, incidentally, wrote the screenplay for the James Bond classic "You Only Live Twice"), but that is kind of a genial lampooning of the characters. Overall, this is a fairly, um, tame film about gentle animals who act tough but are actually pussycats at heart.

Mr. Fox and the Rat in Fantastic Mr. Fox
Mr. Fox trying to work things out as an adult
The voice actors are all top-notch. Rather than have them record their lines in a studio, Anderson took them on location and had them approximate the situation of their characters in the film when the dialogue was spoken. Thus, some were spoken underground, other dialogue in closets, etc. I am absolutely certain that this amused Bill Murray to no end. It all gives the film a fresh, authentic feel that often is lacking in the cookie-cutter animation of other studios.

Wes Anderson adjusting character figures in Fantastic Mr. Fox
It must be wonderful to grow up, continue to play with your toys, and get paid for it
"Odd" is a word often used to describe Anderson films like "Fantastic Mr. Fox," but that is not necessarily bad. If you are tired of the current Pixar/DreamWorks/Amblin style of slick animation, which is polished to perfection and a bit too all-that at times, this film will serve as a great antidote. Wes Anderson and Roald Dahl make a great team. You should pick up a copy of "Fantastic Mr. Fox."

Below is the official trailer.


Wreck-It Ralph (2012) - Full of Classic Video Game References

Wreck-It Ralph: Disney Imitating Pixar, with Good Results

Wreck-It Ralph
"Wreck-It Ralph" (2012).
Directed by Rich Moore, "Wreck-It Ralph" (2012) combines the two fads in entertainment: animation and video games. Walt Disney Animation Studios can put these films out in its sleep, and this is the 52nd entry in its animated feature series, which began way back in 1937 with "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."  If Disney, especially with the help of head guru John Lassetter, doesn't know how to make a quality animation film by now, it is in deep trouble - but this is a fine film, whether from Disney or anyone else.  As a bonus, it is in glorious 3D (though you can see it in 2D as well), which really works in the arcade-game setting.

Fix-It Felix Jack McBrayer confronts Wreck-It Ralph
Wreck-It Ralph explaining things to Fix-It Felix.
Litwak's arcade is a normal place during the day, but at night it gets even more exciting.  That is when the video game characters are free to escape their confines within their respective games and visit other games.  One particular character in the game "Fix-It Felix, Jr." is Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly). Ralph wants to do more than just visit another game: he wants to leave behind his own game character, which forces him to be the villain, behind and become a hero instead.

Jane Lynch as Calhoun in Wreck-It Ralph
Calhoun, star shooter of  "Hero's Day."
Ralph's first step to accomplish this goal is to visit "Hero's Duty," which is a military first-person shooter pretty obviously modeled after "Call of Duty."  In it, the game's winner receives a medal.  Rather than win the proper way on merit, though, Ralph can't help himself from being bad.  He surreptitiously steals the medal and thereby hatches a Cy-Bug, which clings to him as he tries to escape.  Meanwhile, Felix (Jack McBrayer), the hero of Ralph's own game, needs to find him before Mr. Litwak shuts their game down as malfunctioning, so he starts searching.

Vanellope von Schweetz in Wreck-It Ralph
Vanellope von Schweetz in the Sugar Rush game.
Ralph winds up in another game, "Sugar Rush," where he meets Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), who quickly steals his medal.  Felix, meanwhile, learns from Calhoun, the hero in "Hero's Duty" (Jane Lynch), that Cy-Bugs will destroy any game that they enter. That makes it essential that they find Ralph before he destroys the entire arcade in his wanderings. 

Felix and Wreck-It Ralph
Ralph and Felix celebrate.

Ralph eventually learns the danger he has placed everyone in and finds Felix and Vanellope.  Together, they battle a swarm of Cy-Bugs that have hatched.  Ralph has to come up with a plan to attract all the bugs that he has unleashed to one place so that they can be killed before they take over all the games.

The Villains at their support group meeting in Wreck-It Ralph
The Villain Support Group.
The plot is fairly complicated for a Disney film, but it is easy to follow as the movie proceeds.  The special effects are top-notch, and there is a lot of humor floating around (as you would expect in anything featuring Sarah Silverman).  There is an unusual amount of character development for an animated film aimed at kids, and it all serves a good purpose in showing how nothing is beyond our control to improve ourselves.

Fix-It Felix in Wreck-It Ralph
Felix trying to resolve things.
The people who will most appreciate this film, though, are fans of old video games. There are cameo appearances by characters from a number of classic video games: Bowser from the "Mario" games; Doctor Eggman from "Sonic the Hedgehog; Pac-Man and several other characters from "Pac-Man"; Q'bert; and many others.  Oblique references are made to other games, such as "Final Fantasy."  You can have fun with this film just by looking for all the references to games you may have forgotten or only played a few times back in the day, or (admit it) obsessively raced home from school to fire up and start playing.

John C. Reilly standing with a model of his character Wreck-It Ralph
John C. Reilly with his character.
The voice actors are all top-notch, with John C. Reilly showing that he at least is capable of being a leading man in the video game universe. He has a naturally world-weary inflection that perfectly suits a bored video game character. Sarah Silverman is at her annoying best, and her fans will know what that means. Jane Lynch is gruff but amusing in her own over-the-top way as the star of her own action game.

Film poster for Wreck-It Ralph

The characters were all likable, with neuroses and sensitivity completely at odds with their video game personas. There is a Rihanna song thrown in for those who are fans. Sarah Silverman obviously is a little out of place playing a little girl, but she pulls it off nicely. Jack McBrayer all but steals the picture as bashful Felix.

The sugar rush game in Wreck-It Ralph
Wreck-It Ralph looking out over Vanellope's Home, Sugar Rush.
The real draw, though, is the animation, which is stellar. Each game has its own visual style which matches its theme: the shooter game is realistic, the racing game is very colorful, and so on. Watching this is almost like opening a textbook and examining how color and theme combine to create the atmosphere of a given game. It's fun for those who remember the old Nintendo and arcade video games from the dawn of the computer age to see how well the animators created new takes on very old themes.

The four main characters of Wreck-It Ralph
The main characters of "Wreck-It Ralph."
The energetic score by Henry Jackman is perfect for a film about fast-paced video games and mixes electronic and traditional instruments seamlessly. Just like in a video game, the music complements the action and helps keep the viewer focused. As of February 2013, "Wreck-It Ralph" has grossed over $400 million, making it Disney's biggest success at least since "Lilo & Stich." Of course, 'Wreck-It Ralph" still falls short of the grosses from the truly massive franchises such as "Shrek" and "Toy Story," or even ones like "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," but you have to be realistic about what is possible.

Vanellope von Schweetz
Vanellope von Schweetz.
Certainly, Disney has to be happy with the performance of "Wreck-It Ralph." It was a long, hard decade for Disney, brightened only by the 2006 merger with Pixar and Pixar's own continued success. Many make the argument that "Wreck-It Ralph," in fact, is more of a Pixar film than a Disney movie, and it is difficult to argue with that. The Flashy graphics, lack of "moral lessons to be learned" and the focus on simply entertaining rather than trying to create some kind of classic rendition of a well-known fairy tale all mark "Wreck-It Ralph" as having the Pixar imprint. Be that as it may, "Wreck-It Ralph" bears the Disney imprint and is the 52nd feature film in the Disney Animated Classics series.

Pac Man at the villains support group meeting in Wreck-It Ralph
Pac-Man at the Villain's Support Group.
If there is one caution, it is that the humor in "Wreck-It Ralph" occasionally descends into crudeness. While it won't do more than perhaps annoy (or more likely amuse) adults, the raw jokes might be a little much for some parents concerned about what their children hear. Regardless, the gags are very funny if taken in the right spirit.

The theater marquee at the El Capitan for Wreck-It Ralph
Marquee at the El Capitan for "Wreck-It Ralph."
"Wreck-It Ralph" is one of Disney's better recent offerings and a worthy addition to their library.  It isn't as deep some of their older films and has an air of superficiality throughout, but it should keep you entertained.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fantasia (1940) - A Walt Disney Movie with the First Music Videos

Fantasia: A Journey Ahead of its Time into Surrealism

DVD cover front and back of Fantasia 1940
The "Fantasia" DVD case.
Fantasia (1940), directed by a team of uncredited Disney pros, has a fascinating story behind it. Walt Disney was unhappy.  Mickey Mouse, the jewel in his crown, the oyster in his salad, was losing favor with the public. Mickey had been the undisputed king of short films since his introduction in 1928 and had his own comic strip in the papers, but times were changing. Without Mickey, the studio would become directionless, dependent as never before on animated beloved fairy tales of which there was a limited supply.

Pencil drawing of Mickey Mouse from Fantasia 1940
A draft of Mickey Mouse in "The Sorceror's Apprentice."
Somebody suggested using Dopey, one of the dwarfs from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in a "Silly Symphony" short, and something clicked in Walt's head.  He would instead use Mickey and make it the Silly Symphony to end all Silly Symphonies!

Conductor Leopold Stokowski shaking hands with Mickey Mouse in Fantasia 1940
Leopold Stokowski shakes hands with Mickey Mouse
However, after thinking about the short, which he had decided would be entitled "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," Walt was still unhappy. The quality indeed was better than anything Mickey had been in before, with brilliant, vibrant colors and a wonderful soundtrack. Another bigger problem had arisen: he needed to make some money off of it, and the little project had ballooned in cost. His plan to resurrect Mickey had put the financial health of the studio in jeopardy, and little did he know the financial disaster that awaited in "Pinocchio."

Deems Taylor narrating Fantasia 1940
Deems Taylor narrates.
The solution was to double down on Mickey.  Rather than create just another short, Walt decided to expand "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" into a feature-length film.  All he needed was a conductor. He ran into Leopold Stokowski, head of the Philadelphia Orchestra and famous in his own right, and, over dinner, Stokowski agreed to conduct for nothing.

Flying horses in Fantasia 1940
The Pegasus scene in "The Pastoral Symphony" segment.
With Stokowski on board, Disney's imagination ran wild.  He would create an entire animated concert!  Without a story or any structure, though, he would need somebody to tell the audience what was going on.  He brought Stokowski in and they settled on Deems Taylor, the popular host of weekly radio broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic, as the master of ceremonies.

Dinosaurs in Fantasia 1940
Showing Dinosaurs on film ("Rite of Spring") wasn't as common back then.
Walt then had a couple of his staff story writers, Joe Grant and Dick Huemer, select some classical numbers to be played in the film. Then he, Stokowski and some of Walt's top lieutenants held a sequence of meetings to make the final choices. Walt had specific ideas in mind, such as an animated piece with dinosaurs, and let the music experts figure out which would work. Stokowski and Deems didn't always agree, but in the end, a consensus was reached. The selections chosen were:

Song Segments in "Fantasia"

  • Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach.
  • Nutcracker Suite by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
  • The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Paul Dukas.
  • Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky.
  • The Pastoral Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven.
  • Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli.
  • Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky and Ave Maria by Franz Schubert.
There also was a jazz jam session after the Intermission, which fell after "Rite of Spring."

Mickey Mouse ordering around a mop in The Sorcerer's Apprentice sequence of Fantasia 1940
Mickey having fun in "The Sorceror's Apprentice."
The animators went to work. For inspiration, they studied famous ballerinas and brought in animal experts such as the Director of the Museum of Natural History, Roy Chapman Andrews. Over one thousand artists and technicians became involved, and color stylists carefully created color schemes that would flow from piece to piece. Different directors were used for each sequence, with Ben Sharpsteen helping to both produce and direct.

A family of centaurs in Fantasia 1940
A Pegasus and family in "The Pastoral Symphony."
Walt Disney still wasn't done.  He wanted to do something big, to stretch the boundaries of animation. Stokowski and he dreamed of releasing scents in theaters for different musical numbers, but that proved unworkable. Since the music was so important in this project, more so than in any other animated film, Disney contacted David Sarnoff of RCA, who agreed to create a stereophonic surround sound system that had never been used in film before. The result was "Fantasound," which captured the symphony's sound better than ever before. The process was never used again, though it led to advances in multi-track recording, overdubbing and noise reduction.

A centaurette in Fantasia 1940
A Centaurette in "The Pastoral Symphony."
With everything in place, the picture was completed, but then a new problem arose: RKO refused to distribute it, calling it too long (Disney's only feature over two hours) and a "longhair musical." Walt said fine, I'll just take "Fantasia" on the road, and that's what he did. "Fantasia" opened in a total of thirteen roadshows held in major cities across the country. They were elaborate affairs, with special illustrated program booklets and special theater marquees for "Fantasia."

Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer's Apprentice in Fantasia 1940
"The Sorceror's Apprentice" is the most famous segment.
Upon release, "Fantasia" immediately broke box office records, but the limited release meant limited revenue.   It was sort of a game back then, "10 Smash Weeks at the Roxy" and all that were so much hooey, so you have to take such "records" with a grain of salt." The onset of World War II eliminated European revenues, and RKO took over distribution. To cut costs, RKO eliminated Fantasound, which was expensive to set up in each theater, and cut "Fantasia" drastically to allow more showings. "Fantasia" was reduced to second billing to a low-profile Western and lost money.

Three dinosaurs in Fantasia 1940
Several scenes are quite scary, this is from "Dance of the Hours."
Disney Studios stayed in business, no thanks to "Fantasia." "Fantasia" since has been re-released half a dozen times and has gone in and out of favor. The 1969 re-release was successful because many viewers thought it fit in well with the "acid culture" of the time, just like "Alice in Wonderland," and Disney promoted "Fantasia" that way to turn a profit.

Freak out with Disney
From Films and Filming Magazine, January 1971.
"Fantasia'''s image suffered as a result. Walt surely never would have approved, but he had gone on to his own personal Fantasia. As the decades passed, nobody quite knew what to do with "Fantasia" creatively, although it made money in whatever form it took. Every time "Fantasia" was shown, something different had been altered or tweaked or digitally removed.

Wood nymphs in Fantasia 1940
A gathering in honor of Bacchus, the god of wine, for "The Pastoral Symphony."
Today, "Fantasia" is acclaimed as a classic and, in real dollar terms, is one of the highest-grossing films in history. Its 1991 home video release broke sales records, and finally, a sequel was initiated by Roy Disney, "Fantasia 2000," as a sort of memorial to Walt Disney himself. Of course, for those in the know, the original "Fantasia" was itself a memorial to the man - the Sorceror was deliberately ("secretly") modeled on Walt Disney, bushy eyebrows and all. If the physical resemblance wasn't clear enough, the Sorceror was called "Yen Sid." You didn't have to be a candidate for working on the upcoming Enigma project during World War II to realize that was "Walt Disney" spelled backward.

Sorceror Mickey Mouse Fantasia 1940
The Sorceror, Yen Sid, and Mickey Mouse.
History repeated: "Fantasia 2000," released in late 1999, was a creative success, and a financial disaster. Apparently, the project took a decade to complete as the studio (meaning Roy Disney) couldn't pin down the numbers to be included until virtually the last minute (after ten full years!). You know Disney, though, they'll be making a ton of money on "Fantasia 2000" in 2030, 2040, 2050... They have the outlets to keep "Fantasia 2000" (and "Fantasia" itself, for that matter) selling slowly but surely until the end of time. The "Fantasia" franchise already has had a lasting influence: outside of classical music circles, Stokowski and Deems are remembered today only for their participation in "Fantasia."

Mickey Mouse in control in Fantasia 1940
"Fantasia" is a kaleidoscope of color.
It isn't difficult to see that Walt Disney wanted to make "Fantasia" the first full-scale sequence of music videos, with the greatest production values and based on the best sources available on classical music. He was forty years ahead of MTV and its true spiritual father. He made some pseudo-sequels a few years later that were never recognized as such, "Make Mine Music," "Melody Time" and "Fun and Fancy Free," but this is the best of them all. If you enjoy fine animation, a nice selection of classical music "greatest hits," and are willing to immerse yourself for a couple of hours in animation history, "Fantasia" is a top choice for an evening's entertainment.

Below is the trailer.


Pinocchio (1940) - Disney's Classic Tale of a Boy Gone Wrong

Pinocchio: Gepetto Teaches Some Tough Lessons

Film poster Pinocchio 1940
An original poster for "Pinocchio" (1940).
Following the smash hit that was "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," Walt Disney turned his attention to another classic fairy tale, "Pinocchio" (1940).  It was adapted from Carlo Collodi's "The Adventures of Pinocchio," and released by RKO on February 7, 1940.

Pinocchio 1940
Pinocchio is famous for his nose.
As usual in those days, everything at Disney was done by committee, so there are seven directors credited (Norman Ferguson, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts and Ben Sharpsteen) and seven screenplay adapters: ; ; ; ; ; ; and . Clearly, after "Snow White," Walt thought that seven was his lucky number.

Gepetto creating the boy in Pinocchio 1940
The kindly old Gepetto hard at work.
The film opens with the Academy Award-winning song "When You Wish Upon a Star," sung by Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards). We meet the woodworker, Gepetto (Christian Rub), who lives with his cat Figaro and fish, Cleo.  Gepetto is working on a marionette which he names Pinocchio (Dickie Jones). Wishing "upon his star," Gepetto wants Pinocchio to become a real boy.

The boy on strings in Pinocchio 1940
Somebody else is pulling the strings - at least at first.
The wish comes true during the night courtesy of the Blue Fairy (Evelyn Venable).  The guileless wooden boy goes off to school, where he falls in with Honest John and Gideon, who take advantage of him and send him to star in Stromboli's (Charles Judels) puppet show.

Pinocchio 1940
Pinocchio on stage.
Stromboli, realizing how much money Pinocchio would be worth to him, locks him in a birdcage.  The Blue Fairy returns to ask why he disobeyed Gepetto, and Pinocchio lies, causing his nose to grow.  As the Blue Fairy says, "a lie will keep growing and growing until it's as plain as the nose on your face."  She then takes pity on him and sets him free.

Pinocchio dancing on strage in Pinocchio 1940
Dance for me. Dance!
Honest John and Gideon then meet Pinocchio and convince him that he is sick and that the only cure for him is to go to Pleasure Island (they will receive rewards from the evil Coachman (Judels) for doing so).

Pinocchio 1940
Pinocchio's nose grows when he tells a lie.
Pinocchio finds that the boys on the island smoke, gamble, get drunk and generally act like delinquents.  Jiminy Cricket learns that boys on the island turn into donkeys who are then sold to work in the Coachman's businesses.  Pinocchio escapes but is cursed with a donkey's ears and tail.

Stromboli with a sword and the boy in Pinocchio 1940
Doesn't Pinocchio look so innocent?
They return to Gepetto's workshop, where they learn that he has been swallowed by the whale "Monstro" (Thurl Ravenscroft) while looking for Pinocchio.  They go searching for and themselves get swallowed by the whale, and they must all find a way out.

Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio 1940
"When you wish upon a star."
This obviously is a much darker tale than "Snow White," and even frightening in some ways.  Many parents did not want their children to see it for that reason.  The box office was below expectations.

Pinocchio 1940
Honest John practicing his reading.
It took years to recoup the film's cost, especially in light of the closure of many foreign markets due to World War II.  Reviews, however, were positive due to the wonderful effects animation of background items, and, over time and after multiple re-releases, the film became a financial bonanza.

Honest John and Gideon in Pinocchio 1940
A common theme in early Disney is innocents taken in by swindlers.
Today, "Pinocchio" is considered by many to be the top animated feature film ever made, though others consider "Pinocchio" to sit in second place behind "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." It is difficult to find anyone who dislikes "Pinocchio," though it tends to have a lower profile than many other classic Disney animated feature films. Rides and characters based on this film are centerpieces at Disney's theme parks around the world.

Pinocchio 1940

Pretty much everyone, of course, knows what it means for your nose to grow because you told a lie, and they know that comes from "Pinocchio." So, whether or not the film itself is watched a lot these days, it has entered the lexicon.

Pinocchio 1940
Pinocchio's nose comes in handy at times.
There even was a Disney on Ice show that ran for many years in the '80s and early '90s and which led to similar efforts for films like "Beauty and the Beast.  The film is voiced by top stars of the day, and even Mel Blanc manages to get in a hiccup or three.

The Blue Fairy in Pinocchio 1940
We should all have a second chance in life.
The songs, a true highlight of the film, were composed by Leigh Harline, with lyrics by Ned Washington.  Harline and Paul J. Smith composed the background music.  Besides the classic "Star," other tunes that will stick in your head include "Give a Little Whistle" and I've Got No Strings."

Gepetto inside Monstro discovers the boys donkey ears in Pinocchio 1940
Hide your head in shame!
Adults will enjoy this film as much as anyone. Where else are you going to see annoying kids literally transformed into jackasses? The songs should bring back childhood memories, while the story is engaging and unpredictable.

Jiminy Cricket stands on the boy's nose in Pinocchio 1940
Jiminy Cricket is always a favorite.
After "Snow White," this is the film most people associate with Disney's early years.  It is well worth viewing today by even the smallest children for the awesome songs, visuals, and story. Some people think this is the greatest animated feature ever come out of Disney, and they make a strong case.

Pinocchio 1940
Jiminy Cricket is one of the enduring characters of "Pinocchio."