Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Pinocchio 1940

Personal Overview: my earliest memory of Pinocchio was at the age of four when I attended a pantomime version with my mother. For some reason we wound up in the front row, but seated on opposite sides of the aisle. My clearest memory of the performance is that when the fox and the cat chase Pinocchio off the stage and through the crowd the actor playing the fox brushed against me and knocked me out of my seat. The actor was very apologetic when he spoke to my mother later on. I suffered no ill effects out of the incident, although I’m still a little wary of sitting that close to the stage.

I think I saw the film somewhere along the line, but I can’t remember when and it may have been because the Sunday night Disney show was often in the habit of screening scenes from their library of classics at times.

I know that I read the original book by Carlo Collodi and quite liked it. To be honest I prefer that version than Disney’s. There are significant differences in both story and character. Geppetto is less likeable, Pinocchio is much the same, although the cartoon version is probably slightly more appealing. One of the major differences is Jiminy Cricket. In the film he’s a dapper little chap, who also puts me in mind of an animated insect version of Jimmy Stewart. In the book he’s an actual cricket and is killed by the marionette fairly early on. I also don’t think the book had the characters of Figaro the cat and Cleo the goldfish, but more about them in Cuteness Factor.

Hero/es: the hero is the titular Pinocchio. In both book and film he’s a marionette fashioned from a piece of wood by the elderly childless Geppetto. While he’s able to move and think independently unlike other wooden puppets, he longs to be a real boy, but is often prevented in this endeavor by his own behaviour which is frequently selfish, impulsive and reckless. He’s more likeable in the film than the book, but I personal found him rather unsympathetic in both. The film version, like many Disney treatments, seems to be what people immediately think of when the name Pinocchio is mentioned.

Villain/s: Pinocchio doesn’t really have a traditional villain as such. There’s the sly fox Honest John and his mute assistant Gideon the cat. The fact that both Gideon and Figaro are cats brings up an interesting question for me. Gideon is anthropomorphic, he wears clothes and doesn’t live with a family like a house pet. Figaro is a cat, although he does appear rather kittenish, it makes me wonder if Figaro will become less catlike and more human as he grows. While the fox and the cat do cause problems for Pinocchio they’re not what you think of a traditional villain, especially when you stack them up against figures like Grimhilde the Evil Queen from Snow White. There’s also Stromboli, the puppeteer, and he appears in the Disney line up of villains, but that’s largely due to his imposing appearance and temper. The villain of the piece for me is Pinocchio, the puppet’s own nature is as much his enemy as any external factor or villain that he encounters.

Cuteness Factor: this is something that nearly every Disney animated feature has in some degree. In Pinnochio it’s filled by Figaro and Cleo. The kitten and the goldfish were Geppetto’s pets before he carved Pinocchio, they do regard the puppet with a degree of suspicion initially, although they become good friends by the end of the film. Neither can speak, but they communicate with each other and the audience by expression and action, and they both rate pretty highly on the cuteometer. Jiminy Cricket is probably another member of Team Cute in Pinocchio, he provides Pinocchio’s conscience, he also fulfills the role of narrator, plus he sings one of the best known songs from the film and he later transcended the film itself to become a Disney icon.

Animation: for the time, given the available technology the animation is impressive, as were most of the early Disney films. By today’s standards it probably appears a little crude, but for the time it was fairly groundbreaking as was most of what Disney studios produced for a long time. Two sequences stick out in my mind as exceptional. One is where all the clocks in Gepetto’s home/workshop go off at once and the audience is treated to a kaleidoscope of elaborate cuckoo clocks with all sorts of actions to indicate the passing of time. It’s rather like Walt Disney gave his animators free rein with that one short sequence. The other is the depiction of Pleasure Island.  To me it was the ultimate expression of boyish hedonism and it brought the location across much better than it was described in the book.

Final Words: It’s a pleasing, fun work and a solid entry. It’s not particularly challenging, but it is both easy and enjoyable to watch.

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