Pinocchio is a tale as rich and textured as the grain in the fine piece of Swiss Pine our eponymous hero was carved from. Thematically, the struggles between temptation and conscience and the power of wishes over practicality are dominant during this epic, three-day morality play. As the personification of “wishes,” the Blue Fairy encapsulates both pretty well in providing Pinocchio the blueprint (pun INTENDED) for becoming a real boy: "prove yourself brave, truthful and unselfish and someday you will be a real boy. You must choose between right and wrong." However, perhaps the most interesting areas explored are that of life as an actor, the fame that comes with it and the entertainment industry as a whole – especially within the context of Walt Disney himself.
When Pinocchio is presented with the option of becoming an actor in lieu of attending his first day of school, it didn't take much cajoling for him to acquiesce. Of course, parenthetically speaking, playing hookey for the promise of fame and fortune is easily the most normal part of a scene involving a walking, talking puppet and a fully anthropomorphized fox and cat. What kid wouldn't forgo an education for the “easy road to success?” As it happens, this very path (albeit a more circuitous one) shares some similarities with that in which Walt Disney took. At the age of sixteen, Walt would also drop out of school... but, to join the army. However, when he was rejected for being too young, he went on to become an ambulance driver for the red cross. It was after this short-lived career when he chose to buckle down and decide on whether to pursue the “no strings” life of an actor or the more practical one of a newspaper artist. Although, unlike Pinocchio, Walt did listen to his conscience and decided it better to “be smart than be an actor.”
Even then, if Walt did avoid the life of a performer, he couldn't dodge fame and celebrity. Yet, this doesn't mean he would cavort about with a “waxed moustache,” a “high silk hat” or a “silver cane.” Walt would find success in a less glamorous and more distinguished way behind the scenes as the creator and proverbial man behind the curtain of the Walt Disney empire. Perhaps, Walt had less in common with Pinocchio and was more in step with the showman Stromboli. This isn't to suggest that Walt was a fire-eating gypsy who would lock the talent up in a cage, withhold their share of the profit or, when they grew too old, threatened to make firewood out of them... right? Well, as it happened, most of Walt Disney's animation staff would go on strike in 1941 due to discontent with their pay... shortly after the release of Pinocchio. After all, just as it's Stromboli's Marionette Show, it's also Walt Disney's Pinocchio – and, to that end, "what does an actor (or a studio head) want with a conscience anyway?"
On a more whimsical note...
- If you're viewing the 70th Anniversary DVD release of Pinocchio, you might notice an anti-smoking public service announcement during the previews. This is especially relevant since Gepetto, Foulfellow, Pinocchio and Lampwick are all seen indulging in either pipes or cigars.
- In the opening scene where Jiminy Cricket introduces the story of Pinocchio, there's a bit of foreshadowing in regards to Disney Animated Features as books of Peter Pan (1951) and Alice in Wonderland (1953) can be found in the background
- Gepedophile or Gepettophile? Either way, when you're an elderly, toy-making bachelor who wishes upon a star for a "real boy," the name doesn't do you any favours.
- For my money, all of the scenes in Gepetto's workshop have to be some of the best and most detailed animation that Disney has ever done.
- We know what the top seller in the Disney haberdashery is... with a red feather in his Tyrolean cap, Pinocchio is the first of three Disney heroes to don such an acoutrement. The others are Peter Pan and Robin Hood.
- Gepetto's playful cat Figaro can also be found in various Disney animated shorts, most notably and ironically as Minnie Mouse's pet kitty.
- When the cuckoo clocks in Gepetto's workshop strike nine, the last four feature such debauchery as a farmer beheading a turkey, a hunter shooting a bird, an old sot hiccupping outside of a tavern, and a mother spanking her son's bare behind. Also, for good measure, Gepetto's pocket watch shows two drunks toasting their ales.
- The Blue Fairy's entrance (bubble of light and creepy music), disposition and appearance (right down to the magic wand with a star at the end) are VERY reminiscent to that of Glinda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz (1939).
Play both video clips below AT THE SAME TIME!!!!
- If you've noticed that the Blue Fairy's weird and almost too lifelike animation reminds you to that of Snow White's, it's because the Disney animators used the same method. It's called rotoscaping.
- I find it both distracting and confusing that the animators used the same fleshy green colour for Jiminy's skin (exoskeleton?) and his pants.
- Gepetto is bad ass - not only does he smoke a pipe in bed but he also sleeps with a fully loaded pistol under his pillow!
- Poor ol' Pinoke... it's tough to succeed in life when it seems as though those who are closest to you are also conspiring against you. He never would've been locked in a cage, half-transformed into a donkey or swallowed by a whale if only his father had thought enough to walk his wooden son to school on his first day of LIFE or if his conscience hadn't overslept on his first day on the job.
- In Jiminy Cricket and con-artists Gideon and "Honest" John Worthington Foulfellow, Disney introduces its first of only a handful of fully anthropomorphized characters to also walk among humans.
- Ironically, the mute Gideon is "voiced" by Mel Blanc who is arguably the most famous cartoon voice actor of all-time (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Barney Rubble, etc.). His only "lines" were three hiccups.
- Jiminy Cricket is quite the horn-bug. He's seen dancing with wooden female figures - even being as presumptuous to ask "how 'bout sitting out the next one, babe, huh?" He's also reduced to blushing at the mere presence of the Blue Fairy and is caught gawking up the skirts of the French can-can marionettes.
- Is Pinocchio's first nose-growth-inducing lie even a lie? When asked why he didn't attend school he blamed an encounter with "two monsters with green eyes." Sure, Foulfellow's eyes are brown but Gideon's are green and I think we can all agree that a walking/talking fox and cat could qualify as "monsters." And, under such duress, could you blame the kid for mistaking the fox's eyes for green?
- When the children arrive at Pleasure Island, the Coachman encourages them to be gluttons by feasting on dill pickles and ice cream. Pickles? Since when do kids like eating pickles to excess?
- "Pinoke" is a pretty good nickname for our hero but not as good as the Lampwick-coined "Slats."
- What and who exactly are the Coachman's gorilla-armed-white-eyed-goons supposed to be? Are they silhouettes or are they just all black? Were they transformed from something too?
- The hoodlums-turned-to-donkeys are being sold to the salt mines and the circus... I wonder if we will see one in Dumbo (1941).
- Pinocchio's ability to breathe underwater is pretty cool. Is it worth losing that to become a "real boy?"
- When it's all said and done, each of the many antagonists (Stromboli, Gideon, Foulfellow, the Coachman, and Monstro) got away with nary a consequence. Of the many themes, crime and punishment is not one of them.
We love Disney. Period.