Rating -

Animated (US); 1940; Not Rated; 88 Minutes

Dickie Jones: Pinocchio
Christian Rub: Geppetto
Cliff Edwards: Jiminy Cricket
Evelyn Venable: The Blue Fairy
Walter Catlett: J. Worthington Foulfellow
Frankie Darro: Lampwick
Charles Judels: Stromboli The Coachman
Don Brodie: Barker

Produced by Walt Disney; Directed by Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton Luske; Screenwritten by Ted Sears, Otto Englander, Webb Smith, William Cottrell, Joseph Sabo, Erdman Penner, Aurelius Battaglia; based on the story by Carlo Collodi

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Written by DAVID KEYES

It seems hard to believe that it was almost 60 years ago when a little movie title "Pinocchio" came into our lives. In the late 1930s, Walt Disney proudly introduced the animated film genre to us with his first, "Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs," which in itself is the ground breaker for every animated movie that arrived afterwards.

But "Pinocchio," his second film, was the first true masterpiece of his time. People today have come to recognize the animation department's recent successes as classics of their lifetimes, but at a period when Disney himself isn't alive to watch them succeed, it seems fitting that his original work is considers the studio's best.

And it is in every way. Most consider "Snow White" the true masterpiece of his time, while others think it's "Pinocchio." Though I visualize that "Bambi" has always remained his greatest triumph, "Pinocchio" comes awfully close.

The early 1940s proved to be a tough time for Mr. Disney and his animators, though. "Pinocchio" and "Fantasia," the two movies that followed "Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs," were not the successes in movie theaters that the studio had hoped them to be. True, they were, at that time, considered the most elaborate tests animation had ever taken, not just because they demonstrated their limitless freedom of creativity, but because they also demonstrated stories and situations involving elements that children learn to fear. Scary monsters, evil, demonic laughter, doom--things like this will likely leave our little children cowering in their seats, because, after all, children are taught and have the instinct to fear these things.

Yet, somehow, these two movies failed to earn back their budget in their original nationwide releases. This prompted the studio's next feature, "Dumbo," to be made on a tight budget and on quick schedule in hopes that it would earn back the money it has lost with "Pinocchio" and "Fantasia."

And it did. Thus, the future promoted several similar elaborate failures and tightly budgeted successes. In 1959, Disney produced his most elaborate animated movie, "Sleeping Beauty," which was around six million dollars in the making. It, too, failed, and the studio's next feature, "101 Dalmatians," had an obviously limited budget, but was a quick money-maker for the studio nonetheless in this situation.

The same happened in the mid 1980s. "The Black Cauldron," in 1985, was promoted as a new age of animation for the studio. Costing an estimated 25 million dollars, it opened up to mixed reviews but poor worldwide box office results. This, too, prompted a limited-budget feature, this time named "The Great Mouse Detective," released in the following year.

As you can see, Disney's history often repeats itself, sadly. I say sadly because it's almost impossible to believe that features like "Pinocchio," "Sleeping Beauty" and "The Black Cauldron" would fail when they're all terrific movies. Each one of them portrayed the bloodcurdling stories that children had feared all their lives, instead of seeming like the standard innocent children's tales. Perhaps they failed because the adult audiences thought that these things could have been too intense for young eyes.

It's a risk that the studio constantly takes, and its a risk that pays off critically but not often commercially. In "Pinocchio," Disney demonstrated the powers of obsession and darkness to frighten its little viewers. There was a moment when I saw it in a theater awhile back when a young boy in front of me began crying when a monstrous blue whale was attacking Pinocchio and his family. He cried so loud that his mother had to remove him from the theater. This would seem like a smart move, since the movie is, after all, scary for a young viewer's eyes. But children have to learn to deal with these things eventually. What better way to deal with them than animated movies that appeal to their little eyes? Why do you think Disney made movies like this?

But don't get the impression that movies like "Pinocchio" are simply made to scare them. Disney always ensured that there was relief in his movies, so that they wouldn't depress the overall atmosphere of the picture. Here, our cases of relief are the comical Jiminy Cricket, the cute little animals Figaro and Cleo, and the strikingly beautiful blue fairy. Each of them, I imagine, will bring relief to all different target audiences, but the true target audience, the little boys, will find their relief from the fright in Pinocchio himself, the little blockhead that they can obviously identify with. He's always getting into trouble, but thanks to relief and his supporting characters, the troubles are all eventually uplifted.

And be warned, all these dark and frightening situations don't necessarily involve the standard Disney villain. Truthfully, there are three antagonists in "Pinocchio," but the true evil and pain is inflicted by life's decisions. Important Disney movies like this don't need villains to cause the darkness. Life inflicts the doom and pain all on its own. That's why "Bambi" deals with a faceless, nameless hunter, and "Lady And The Tramp" deals with nameless and faceless dog catchers. Life's situations create their own troubles, and villains do not need to carry them out.

That's also why "Pinocchio" does without a major villain. Being a wooden boy will likely brew up some mischief with the people that live around him, but the tests of humanity and the essence of life itself are the real villains here. And in usually every case, there's a hero like Pinocchio whose life's instincts and decisions are the real solutions to defeating these horrors of real life. True, "Pinocchio"s life horrors are more on a level of unreal fantasy, but can you think of anything better in a situation with a live wooden puppet? What would seem like a real life villain in this case besides the fantasy?

The whole conception emerges "Pinocchio" as one of the best movies I have ever laid eyes on. It's hard to imagine movies like this would fail in public release, but perhaps that's to be expected and appreciated. Obviously adults don't want their children to see things that they might find too dark and frightening for their kids. That's an obvious solution to them.

However, movies like this that fail eventually get the recognition they deserve. Today, "Pinocchio" is hailed as one of Disney's greatest triumphs, and rightfully so.

Most failures wind up like this. If they fail today, who knows how widely acclaimed they'll be tomorrow?

1998, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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