Pinocchio: Gepetto Teaches Some Tough Lessons
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. 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: Ted Sears; Otto Englander; Webb Smith; William Cottrell; Joseph Sabo; Erdman Penner; and Aurelius Battaglia. Clearly, after "Snow White," Walt thought that seven was his lucky number.
|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.
|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. 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 Pinoccho 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.
|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 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.
|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.
|"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. 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.
|A common theme in early Disney is innocents taken in by swindlers|
Today, the film is considered by many to be the best animated film ever made, though it generally is considered to sit in second place behind "Snow White." It is difficult to find anyone who dislikes this film. Rides and characters based on this film are centerpieces at Disney's theme parks around the world. 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.
|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."
|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 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 animation feature ever come out of Disney, and they make a strong case.
Below is the original 1940 trailer.