Judge Clark Douglas wrote this review with no strings attached.
Walt Disney's original classic that taught the world to wish upon a star.
"Always let your conscience be your guide."
Facts of the Case
An Italian woodcarver named Geppetto has just finished making his latest marionette. "I have the perfect name for you," Geppetto declares to his just-completed wooden friend. "Pinocchio!" Though Geppetto is a reasonably happy man, he still has a bit of a hole in his heart. He would love nothing more than to have a son. Going to bed that night, Geppetto muses, "Wouldn't it be nice if Pinocchio were a real boy?" Fortune chooses to smile upon sweet Geppetto, and the magical Blue Fairy appears in his home that very night. She grants Pinocchio the gift of life. He can speak, dance, play, and sing, but he is still not a real flesh and blood boy. If Pinocchio wants to be a real boy, he's going to have to prove his worth by being a good boy. Even with the help of conscience-for-hire Jiminy Cricket, becoming a real boy is going to be a challenging task. Crafty foxes, a villainous gypsy, irresponsible peers and a host of other obstacles (including a nose that grows every time the lad tells a lie) are standing in young Pinocchio's way. Will he ever become a real boy?
After all these years, Pinocchio is still a enchanting viewing experience. It was the second Walt Disney animated feature following Snow White, and it's remarkable just how quickly Disney and his team captured the knack of adapting classic fairy tales for a broad audience. The formula here is deceptively simple: tell a well-known story with gentle sincerity, add some varied forms of humor and cute supporting characters, throw in a few songs, animate lovingly, and you've got a winner on your hands. Somehow, few animated movies have managed to capture the standard of excellence established by Pinocchio and other early Disney films. Despite elements here and there that have dated a bit, Pinocchio remains a film very capable of entertaining viewers of all ages.
The film is more or less divided into four sections: the introductory section with Gepetto, the Stromboli section, the Pleasure Island section, and the Monstro section. The first portion of the film is probably my favorite, as it opens the story on a note of such warm imagination. It's worth considering just how well-defined all the characters are here. We care almost instantly about Geppetto, Jiminy, Figaro, and Cleo (despite the fact that latter two characters cannot speak). Within a matter of minutes, we feel like we know just about everything about these characters just from watching their expressions and body language. As a child, I was always fascinated with the clocks in Geppetto's house, and they remain an endless source of visual pleasure.
The next two sections of the film are both sermons about children who misbehave, and they are given an effectively blend of fascination and fear mongering. The devious Honest John strolls along with promises of fame and fortune on the stage, and young Pinocchio finds himself in the hands of an evil theatre pimp. Honest John comes along again with promises of fun and adventure on Pleasure Island, and Pinocchio is nearly turned into a donkey. These moments are engaging, but the film really returns to peak form again during the Monstro the Whale scenes. It's one of the great early animated action sequences, and I found Monstro absolutely terrifying during my younger years. The film receives the obligatory happy ending, but it's rather touching and well-earned.
After the extraordinarily high standard Disney set with their hi-def release of Sleeping Beauty, I was expecting a lot from Pinocchio. I wasn't disappointed. While this film certainly doesn't reach the level of artistic glory achieved by Sleeping Beauty, the animation here looks positively vibrant from start to finish. Despite the film's considerable age, the image here is virtually flawless. No flecks, no scratches, no grime, no noticeable problems of any sort. Blacks are rich and deep, and the vivid color palette is conveyed with rich clarity. The level of detail is absolutely remarkable here. I noticed little touches in the animation that I had never seen before, slight little things around the edges that become easily lost in standard-def (consider the faint shades of grey on Figaro's ears, or the smallest contours of the clocks). The audio is a little less magnificent, though it's just about as impressive as one could hope considering the age of this track. The dialogue still suffers from a bit of crackling and distortion on occasion, but Leigh Harline's score sounds just fantastic and is well-distributed throughout. The only attention-grabbing audio sequence comes during the Monstro sequence, when your subwoofer will start to rumble and shake a bit.
Disney has also delivered a superb supplemental package. Let's begin with the first disc. Meaghan Jette Martin delivers a "When You Wish Upon a Star" music video, which turns one of the classic Disney songs into a typically mundane bit of tweenybopper pop-rock. Blegh. You also have the option to play sing-along versions of the songs from the film. Next, a couple of trivial items (pun intended). "Pinocchio's Matter of Facts" offers a trivia track, and you also get a trivia challenge interactive game. The biggest supplement on the first disc is a video commentary featuring film critic Leonard Maltin, animator Eric Goldberg, and film historian J.B. Kaufman (who claims he is currently working on a book about Pinocchio). It's a really terrific track, with in-depth information on every aspect of the film. The video commentary is also complicated by sketches and archival footage pertaining to whatever the guys happen to be talking about. You can listen to it as a standard audio commentary if you like, too. Either way, this is essential listening. An unusual viewing option called "Disney View" should be satisfactory to people who don't like having any empty spaces on their widescreen television (the film is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio). This viewing option fills the sides of the screen with painted borders by Tony Bluth. Huh.
There are plenty of additional goodies on the second disc. If the video/audio commentary wasn't thorough enough for you, I imagine you'll be perfectly satisfied after seeing the 56-minute making of documentary. There's just a bit of overlap between the documentary and the commentary, but I think both feature enough original substance to be required viewing. Next, we get several storyboarded deleted scenes. These are fortunately accompanied by a good deal of explanation and introduction, which put the scenes in context. An alternate ending sets the conclusion of the film on the beach rather than in Geppetto's home. We get 10 minutes of live action reference footage, and a 6-minute featurette on "The Sweatbox," a screening room of sorts where storyboards and rough footage would be examined. "Geppettos Then and Now" (11 minutes) is a brief featurette about toymaking, and we also get a deleted song called "Honest John" (2 minutes). Truth be told, the song is a little weaker than many of the other tunes in the film. The usual production stills and theatrical trailers are onhand, too. Finally, there are a couple of interactive games: "Pleasure Island Carnival Games" and "Pinocchio's Puzzles." These are strictly for the kiddies. The third and final disc includes a DVD version of the film. Phew!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Can someone please explain to me how Pinocchio and Jiminy are able to speak underwater? Also, how exactly does the whole "turning boys into donkeys" thing work, and how does leaving Pleasure Island stop the process? A shiny dime to whoever can answer these questions.
Pinocchio is an animation gem that belongs in any collection, and once again Disney steps up to the plate with a near-perfect Blu-ray release. Unless you're a heartless beast, this set is a must-buy. I can't recommend it highly enough. Bravo.
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Scales of Justice
• Video/Audio Commentary
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