All the science is 100% real—including all the puppet stuff!
When last we left Pinocchio, his actions in de-Johaning Geppetto from the belly of the evil whale Monstro had convinced the flighty Blue Fairy to renovate the maple marionette into a man mancub. Well, as time tramped on, the apparently unappreciative piece of pine rediscovered his anti-social streak and decided to go poison oak all over everyone. This foolish fern behavior gets him re-lumbered, and now little Pinocchio is an irritated, dissatisfied hunk of simpering cedar. He wants another chance at soft tissuedom, but the world he now lives in is oddly modern, including such 20th century sensations as television, satellites and interstellar sea creatures (?). One day, the mahogany miscreant runs into Nurtle, a space jockey Twurtle from the planet Twurtle Dee. Nurtle has overshot Mars by a few light years. He is on the trail of unexplained nuclear gasses. Pinocchio hitches a ride, believing that if he hypnotizes Astro, Moby Dick's orbiting brethren, he can defeat the beast, regain his inner boy, and avoid Flesh Fair. The duo travel to the angry red planet, battle angry multi-colored monsters, and confuse the cosmic mammal enough to win the day. And the Blue Fairy graciously grants Pinocchio one final 24 hour period with his "mommie" Monica so that he can understand true familial love and finally dream. Or something like that.
Pinocchio in Outer Space is a disorienting experience on a lot of levels. First and foremost would have to be in the non-Disney drawing style of the Belgian waffling European animators. They create overly dense, complex, and detailed cartoon drawings that seem at once beautiful and menacing. They pack incredible amounts of intricacy within small paint and ink cels. This "too much information" touch renders the action slow and stagy, creating an uneasy sense of dread much like films such as Hoppity Goes to Town or Fantastic Planet. Then there is the entire concept of placing a newly re-wooden Pinocchio into outer space to battle oversized monster animals. Now read that sentence again. And then a third time. Something mighty disconcerting about that. Especially since the attack sequences are aimed at a more intense horror ideal than your average children's animated fantasy. Sure, The Little Mermaid can get away with its scenes of mass murder, and what would Beauty and the Beast be without its gory bloodletting, but here, it's as if a decision was made to test a child's terror tolerance by having our limber lumber lad under constant threat from huge, drool producing beasts of untold nastiness. Even Monstro, now known as Astro, is given a rather vicious makeover. Granted, in Disney's 1941 version of the tale, this future perfume ingredient was a terrifying behemoth, but here he is like an omnipresent technological threat, what with his desire to not only eat people and places but expensive interstellar equipment. Finally, the notion of meeting our little woodenhead after he has failed and fallen back into birch seems to do a disservice to previous incarnations of the Pinocchio story. Except Roberto Begnini's. And just where the hell is Jiminy Cricket?
All of which begs the question, why? Why rework a classic tale of timeless childhood wonder into a strange mix of sci-fi, scare tactics, and space junk? Does Pinocchio really need to be teleported into the airless vacuum of the Milky Way to exemplify a lesson of understanding and charity? Should we frighten the Fritos out of kiddies merely to provide a hypothetical on the potential life living on Mars? It's not like producer/writer Fred Ladd tries to reinvent the original story so much as offer timely (the movie was made in the early 1960s) extrapolations on science. But he was so blinded by astronomy that he forgot to lower his sight lines to childhood level. Perhaps he thought the inclusion of Arnold "Top Cat" Stang would lure the youngsters into a sense of fun and frolic. But Stang's Twurtle spends most of the film in a non-stop technological yak fest with the moving marionette. It turns Pinocchio in Outer Space into My Dinner with Andre as re-imagined by Don Bluth and Werner Von Braun. But probably the strangest thing to come out of all of this is the fact that, for all its misguided amending of children's literature and NASA propaganda, Lively Log Goes Lunar is actually very entertaining. For an adult, all of the overly complicated drawings and endless chattering acts like a refreshing antidote to Disney's anything for a merchandising buck mentality. When the wince inducing songs start to play, anyone over their Uncle Walt wonder days will relish the ripe with parody pontifications of happiness and love inside those demented fuzzy warbles. But it's the fear factor that will sell most multinational multimedia haters their hatful of hallow. Nowhere in the House of Mouse is there room for life threatening, salvia spewing sharp-toothed space demons, not even in The Lion King. Pinocchio in Outer Space is the ideal prepackaged cartoon palate cleanser. One dose and your Mickey open-mindedness will be severally curtailed.
Image's DVD presentation of this long forgotten film is very good, beginning with a clean, crisp 1.78:1 original aspect ratio letterbox print. The anamorphic image has some detectable age issues (dust and dirt) but the meticulous work of the Belgium animators really shines here. The Dolby Digital Mono is also very good, except in the elaborate musical numbers, when attempts at orchestration and singing overwhelm the simple set-up and create distortion and overmodulation. As for extras, we get the original prologue developed for the movie, emphasizing space science over silly symphonies, complete with star maps and planet animation. We are also given a chance to view the opening number "The Little Toy Shop" without the credits that block out several of the detailed background drawings. But by far the biggest extra is the inclusion of a commentary track by producer/creator/writer Fred Ladd. Incredibly proud of his work, Ladd doesn't comment so much as highlight and confirm the action on the screen ("and now Pinocchio meets the aliens"). He does offer a kind of explanation for the film's creation, citing the space race mania of the early '60s as opening the door for production of anything "extraterrestrial." Even though it is sparse, with long gaps of non-discussion, there is enough behind the scenes information offered to make the track worthwhile.
So while not a children's classic, Pinocchio in Outer Space still thumbs its lie-controlled nose at current trends in politically correct cartoon capering. Rugrats will be scared beyond their prescribed medication amounts. Parents will find the lack of product placement tie-ins a refreshing respite from the "buy or die" mentality.
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