Post by That Duckfan on Jun 4, 2020 9:05:53 GMT
Sup. Dir. Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske
Seq. Dir. Bill Roberts, Norman Ferguson, Jack Kinney, Wilfred Jackson, T. Hee
Star. Dickie Jones, Christian Rub, Cliff Edwards, Evelyn Venable, Walter Catlett, Charles Judels
Academy Award for Best Musical Score - WIN
Academy Award for Best Musical Song - WIN
Snow White's place in Disney history is clear as day. Walt had experimented with fairy tales of sorts as far back as his Kansas City days, and even now there were scores of unfinished Silly Symphony sketching lying in the vault, waiting to be discovered when the time was right. Indeed, his intended follow-up, Bambi, shares similar naturalistic themes, but serves as a counterpoint to Snow White by adapting of a modern novel. Unfortunately, Bambi underwent various script and production problems, and so other stories were giving the go-ahead signal in the meantime. The first of these stories was Pinocchio.
The origins of Disney's Pinocchio are a little different. The film is set in something of a hybrid world, bridging the gap of timeless fantasy and modern-day reality. In this respect, it draws its inspiration more from Disney's output of the mid-1930s, which features slicker characters like Max Hare and Mortimer Mouse, and stories like The Robber Kitten and The Country Cousin where innocent young protagonists get in over their heads. Gepetto's workshop is a place of pre-industrial fantasy: the home of an artisan whose work seems untouched by mechanization, but whose style is reminiscent of Art Nouveau. But step over the threshold, and you find yourself in a village full of temptation and exploitation.
It's not an unsurprising step for Walt, who himself learned a few lessons along his way from his turn-of-the-century Midwestern village to Los Angeles in the Modern Age. Walt would often return to the era of his youth to capture a sense of innocence: The Nifty Nineties, half of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Main Street U.S.A., Mary Poppins, The Aristocats. Pinocchio takes from the a similar page. Pleasure Island, reminiscent of Coney Island (first opened 1895) displays many of the age's vices and moral outrage: drinking and smoking and playing pool. There are no electric lights to be found, no automobiles, not even an industrial chimney.
This ambiguously timeless setting has done the film a lot of favours. Instead of trying to modernize the tale and thereby inadvertently dating it, Pinocchio's life lessons remain as quaint as ever. Its cautionary tales, distilled down to their essentials, remain as relevant as ever. The tale of Stromboli is essentially "if you dream of being rich and famous, your manager will screw you over". Examples abound, though never has the metaphorical "no strings attached" been used so aptly. The tale of the Coachman is a more general warning against the excess of pleasure. Visually, it's a very strong sequence, and easier to personally relate to than the previous sequence, but the moral is less clear.
Indeed, the animation in Pinocchio is a triumph of sophistication, particularly in the area of special effects (water, weather, mirrors, magic). No wonder, along with the symbolism, that it graced the cover of that famous animation reference book, The Illusion of Life. In this respect, Pinocchio is a definite improvement over Snow White. Does that means that this is the better film? It's hard to say. Snow White's firsts will always be its trump card. Perhaps the film's afterlife can tell us something more. Moments like Pinocchio's nose have become proverbial, but other elements reappeared in Disney material in the 1950s.
The first of these is the song "When You Wish Upon A Star", which has become Disney's signature song through the Wonderful World TV series. This is an odd case: within the context of Pinocchio, the song signals a kind of divine reward to Gepetto, for having been a good man all his life. It doesn't reflect the main narrative, which is all about learning and struggling to earn your reward. But once it gets tied up with the Disneyland vision, promising the fulfilment of dreams and wishes with no strings attached, its meaning dissolves into a cheap promise. Maybe there are people who fall for this, but I think kids are smarter than that. Walt sold out to American Dreaming nonsense.
As for the characters, Figaro was promoted to Minnie Mouse's pet for a while, and even headlined a couple of shorts in the 1940s. Jiminy Cricket went through something of a renaissance in the 1950s, when he regularly headed educational shorts. This version of Jiminy was more or less codified through later appearances in animation and comics, but he's a shadow of his former self. This Jiminy is a know-it-all, always waving his finger at others. He's conceited, a far cry from his original version. Pinocchio's Jiminy is a red-blooded cricket, a little shabby but worldly, and still coming to terms with his new responsibility as conscience. He's a hot-headed fellow, walking out on Pinocchio twice over the course of days. These personality aspects are precisely what makes him the most three-dimensional character in the film, but they've rarely been heard from since.
So what can we make of Pinocchio after all this time? It's an odd duck in the Disney animation library: something of a side step after Snow White, drawing on a number of elements that Disney will return to time and again as he gets older, but in shallower and more transparent guises. Pinocchio is the story of what Disney could have become, but chose not to be. A cautionary tale, perhaps, in more ways than one.