Always let your conscience be your guide.

After the success of Snow White, Disney quickly set out to make his next feature film. Taking inspiration this time from a children’s storybook by Carlo Collodi, Disney ended up opting the story of Pinocchio, the little wooden boy who comes alive with a wish upon a star. Of course, he isn’t a “real boy” just yet; he must prove he can be good, tell the truth, and trust his conscience, and only then can his maker Geppetto’s wish truly come true. Given today’s context, such a story would seem incredibly simple, childish, and almost hackneyed, and you’d be right; it is all of those things. But, again, like Snow White, it is only those things because it was the progenitor of these conventions that have since been done to death, due to its success and enduring legacy.

Even though Snow White takes most of the glory for being the first fully-animated feature-length film, Pinocchio is often regarded by film historians as one of, if not, the best pictures of the early Disney canon. The animation, while primitive by today’s standards, was top-notch when the film was released, and even today is called by many the pinnacle of early Disney animation. Some of the scenes are a little… questionable, such as the free cigars and chewing tobacco giveaway on Pleasure Island, but that is sorta the point. Of course, one can’t talk about this film without bringing up one of the scariest sequences in an early Disney film: the climactic showdown with Monstro the whale. Anybody who saw this film in their childhood can be forgiven for having an irrational phobia of whales, and think of them as nothing but thoughtless murdering machines.

Now, for all that Pinocchio does do right to provide a highly entertaining (and overly wholesome) experience, there was one major problem I had with the film. Normally, storylines for films are very thrifty, and almost never have anything extraneous; if plotlines are introduced, or mention of some object or detail is made, no matter how small and insignificant, they will always have a purpose to the overall story, otherwise they should not be there; this is a trope or convention known as Chekhov’s Gun. Not only that, any additional storylines ancillary to the main plot will always have an introduction, a middle portion, and a conclusion of their own, to provide the satisfactory arch of the storyline that comes with a complete product of a film or a TV episode. Pinocchio didn’t do that; half of what was shown on screen had no bearing to the overall plot or didn’t come to any sort of conclusion. For instance, the now famous device where Pinocchio’s nose grows larger when he lies; after this is explained, it never shows up once through the entire rest of the movie, so why is it even there, other than to provide Pinocchio with a moral foil, but it’s one that is never explored, since he doesn’t lie the whole rest of the film either. Now consider the character of the Coachman, i.e. the man in charge of bringing the boys to Pleasure Island and, after they’ve turned into donkeys, selling them to slave markets and circuses and whatnot. We meet him, Pinocchio is brought aboard his ship, and he goes about his business making the boys act out and everything until they literally, to quote him, “make jackasses out of themselves”. Pinocchio finds this out when he begins to change, and with the help of Jiminy, escapes the island before the change takes full effect. This man, this secondary but still important villain of the film, is never mentioned again; he does not get any sort of comeuppance, or any resolution whatsoever, he is simply dropped out of sight to move on to the encounter with the whale.

Now, without these aspects of the film, it would barely make feature length, so I’m not decrying the fact that they’re there. I’m calling out the fact that they should have led to something in the film, rather than be unnecessary material that is there literally just to pad the film’s length. Pinocchio’s wooden nose grows larger when he lies, so he is taught not to lie at all? Have Geppetto’s ship be completely destroyed before he is swallowed by Monstro, so that when Pinocchio hits upon the idea of making a fire to cause the whale to sneeze, he is forced to overcome his moral reticence and lie to essentially generate enough firewood to make the fire. That’s just a spitballing attempt to make the narrative device relevant; I’m sure better minds than I could do a more adequate job with this and the Coachman character’s story arc and everything else. Still, going by how I started this review, if you don’t think too hard about how there’s a lot of extra material, there is still plenty of room for entertainment here. Even with the extraneous story aspects, this is still one of the top animated adventures of the Disney canon, and fully deserves its spot on the list.

Arbitrary Rating: 9/10


One thought on “Pinocchio

  1. This is without question my favorite of the early Disney features. I have already seen it many times, but this is the first time I have to consider the storyline. To me it is a fairytale with a moral slant and we do not really need to know how Pinocchio and Jiminy can breath under water or how Gepetto ended up on a ship in the belly of a whale. That is just the way fairytales go.
    But interesting points you bring up.

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