Friday, August 17, 2012

Disney Animated Film Critique # 2: Pinocchio (1940)


   So my fellow book minions, I don't know about any of you but I have a serious obsession with animated films (whether they're Disney or not).  But the most recognizable in my culture as an American citizen are the main 50 animated films produced by Walt Disney's film studio, in chronological order.  I might do some side posts with critiques of live-action Disney films, animated sequels, Disney-Pixar films, or even ones like The Nightmare Before Christmas who have oddball status, with no specific categorization.  But this is something that I have been considering for quite awhile and I finally decided to take the plunge.  The criteria will be: plot, characters, music/songs/score, design/animation, and cultural/historical context and/or overall effect of the other elements.  So take a seat, grab some popcorn and some soda and be prepared to find out the verdict.

PLOT

This movie is the story of woodcarver Gepetto, who longs for a child.  One evening he wishes that a creation of his, wooden marionetter Pinocchio, could be a real boy.  The Blue Fairy brings Pinocchio to life, but tells him that to become a real boy he needs to prove that he's brave, truthful and unselfish and that he can listen to his conscience (a.k.a Jiminy Cricket who agrees to be his conscience).  Pinocchio is led astray when Gepetto sends him to school and goes on a host of adventures to try and become a real boy.  Eventually he, Gepetto and Jiminy Cricket are rewarded for their good deeds, which outweigh their bad ones.

*Critique: Pinocchio is very sympathetic as a puppet who wants to become a real boy, in Disney's version of the 1883 Italian children's book by Carlo Collodi.  I have personally not read the original book, so I can't really be a good judge of how close this version follows it.  But I can say that it is not really surprising that Pinocchio's main struggle centers around right and wrong, learning to use his conscience.  That's something that all young children (and even adults) struggle with and it's very identifiable.  All of his adventures are alternately fun, scary and heartrending because he honestly has a very simple goal.  I like his perseverance throughout the film.

CHARACTERS
*There are quite a few important characters in this one: Gepetto, Pinocchio, The Blue Fairy, Jiminy Cricket, Honest John & Gideon, Stromboli, The Coachman, Lampwick and Monstro. 

Gepetto - He is an honest man, who does woodcarving for a living.  But he is very lonely and wishes for a child to fill his life, hence his carving the puppet Pinocchio to fill that void.  Gepetto is a wonderful character, one of the Disney parents who escapes what seems to be the infamous curse of death, lackadaisical parenting or absence/eccentricity.  He's one of the few who cares and is normal about it.  All he wants is for Pinocchio to grow up honest and happy, plus he's willing to get swallowed by a whale to save him from his own dumb choices!  Definitely a commendable Father.

Pinocchio - A puppet carved by Gepetto and animated by the Blue Fairy, all he wants is to become a real boy.  But he has lots of trouble being honest, knowing what's right and wrong, or resisting the temptations of the outside world that are less than good natured.  Basically, he is just like any other 8 or 9 year old boy except he's a puppet trying to become a real one and needs to be an EXEMPLARY little boy to do it.  You can't help but feel sorry for him and cheer him on, even as you're cursing the stupidity of his actions.  
  Seriously dude, listen to Jiminy once in a while!

The Blue Fairy - She is not really in the story for the most part, except as the granter of much desired wishes.  Plus she's Jiminy Cricket's boss and holds his career in her hands.  She seems benevolent, and of good intentions.  But what can I really say about her that isn't already obvious, considering how little screen time she has? 

Jiminy Cricket -   The most long-suffering cricket in all of animation most-likely.  A lot of the time he comes across as a killjoy, but you know he has nothing but the best in his heart.  He really does save Pinocchio from himself and the evils of the world around him quite a bit.  He has a sarcastic streak and is always honest, whether you want to hear it or not.  He is the precursor to the sidekick in animated films like Mulan, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast.  Definitely adds a lot to the story! :)

Honest John & Gideon - I group these cat and fox companions together, because they work like a single entity to trick Pinocchio into ditching school and going to work for the evil Stromboli's puppet show.  The irony of the name 'Honest' John isn't lost on me, but the fact that they manage to also trick Pinocchio into going to Pleasure Island after escaping the puppet show is only a testament to their slyness and lying abilities.  They are like the big bullies on the grade school playground, only they get to you without using physical force.

Stromboli - Is the robust, bearded puppet maker who is lacking the talent of Gepetto.  He forces Pinocchio to become his star attraction, as the magic puppet without strings.  He shows just how evil he is when Pinocchio wants to go home and he locks him in a FREAKING BIRDCAGE!  P's dumb butt is saved by the Blue Fairy (he also learns at this point that his nose grows when he lies).  Stromboli is left to sink back into obscurity as far as we know, with no resolution ever forthcoming.  But if I was a puppet he would definitely scare the shizz out of me.  

The Coachman - He is a sadistic coach driver who operates a place called Pleasure Island.  It is basically a little boy's dream, with candy and an amusement park plus no parents or supervision.  However, they are also gambling, smoking, getting drunk and otherwise trashing the place!   The only drawback is that this guy turns the little boys into donkeys and sells them to work in salt mines and circuses.  With the help of Jiminy he escapes, but Pinocchio's destructive friend Lampwick is not as lucky.  The idea of the Coachman kind of reminds me of Greek mythology's Circe only slightly scarier in my opinion.

Monstro - He really does not speak or do anything important other than eat, which leads to him swallowing Gepetto and later on Pinocchio.  Seeing as he doesn't reason or actively plan villainous acts (he's just a whale for chrissakes!) I don't find him all that scary.  He's really just a big blue plot device.  

*Critique:  Overall the characters in this movie are very well drawn for an animated film.  In real life there are many villains, not just one.  And people make stupid choices that cost them greatly.  But since it's a Disney movie, at least the main characters get some sort of happy ending.  Which is just the way I like it, because it's a movie - not real life.  If I wanted reality I'd watch a documentary.  These characters are pretty sophisticated (one of them being the embodiment of a conscience) but they are always easy to relate to.

MUSIC, SONGS/SCORE

Score - The incidental music score was composed by Leigh Harline (who also did the score for Snow White) and Paul J. Smith.  Honestly, other than the parts scored with Monstro and the Blue Fairy, most of the instrumentals were very forgettable to me personally.  Nothing really stood out as very beautiful or haunting and none of the pieces had me listening to them over and over again.  I have the feeling that most of the focus was on the songs for this particular film.

Songs - The songs in this film were composed by Leigh Harline, with lyrics by Ned Washington.  They are When You Wish Upon a Star, Little Wooden Head, Give a Little Whistle, Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor's Life for Me), I've Got Not Strings, Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor's Life for Me) [reprise], and When You Wish Upon a Star [reprise].  There were actually six other songs written for the film that weren't used, but two of them ended up in other incarnations.  One was sung by Jiminy Cricket in Fun and Fancy Free, and the other appeared on the 70th Anniversary Edition Platinum Blu-ray and DVD.  When the songs were originally released in album/single form, only the ones sung by Jiminy Cricket were done by the actor from the film.  The true soundtrack wasn't released until years afterward, with the music as it was in the film.

*Critique:  Overall, the songs from the film are for more lasting than the score.  Unlike other Disney films with distinctive and recognizable scores, I feel like this score is below par in comparison.  The songs however, such as When You Wish Upon a Star, have become an entrenched part of our American cultural history.  The fact that there were so many songs written for this film that weren't used only makes me wonder if as a society we are missing something that could be even more crucial to our childhood experiences.

DESIGN/ANIMATION

Animation - Unlike in Snow White, there were far more locales that needed drawing by the animators of this film.  With so many different places that the action took place and no computer to do the groundwork for them, nowadays we'd find it to be an impossible task.  It is amazing how detailed each scene of this film is, especially the ones that take place inside Monstro.  The inside of his stomach, throat, etc. are very well-drawn and more anatomically correct that you would think for a supposed children's film.  Pleasure Island was another example of extreme attention to detail that really makes you believe that Pinocchio's world exists somewhere and the animators visited it beforehand.  

*Critique:  Overall the animation was one of the high points of this film for me.  As a child this was one of the Disney movies that I never watched, because I hated it.  I had no appreciation for the things that I can see now as an adult and find extraordinary.  This film (like most other early Disney films) deserves our appreciation as an audience for the animation alone, not including the other major aspects of the film that we could critique based on their individual worth.

CULTURAL/HISTORICAL CONTEXT AND OVERALL EFFECT

This film was supposed to be released after Bambi, but due to animating difficulty it made it out before the other film instead.  Walt Disney was really excited about the story, but it underwent numerous changes while in development and production from the original script and storyboards.  This film also was the first animated movie to use celebrity voice actors.  This was also groundbreaking in its use of effects animation (separate animators for the special effects and the characters, respectively).  It was a film that gained mostly positive critical reviews, won the Academy Awards for Best Original Song (When You Wish Upon a Star) and Best Original Score.  It was the first Disney film to win either award and both at the same time.  This has since only happened with Mary Poppins (1964) and The Little Mermaid (1989).  Pinocchio did NOT make as much money at the box office as Snow White, because of the loss of international markets to the onset of WWII.  Re-released in theaters over the decades to rake in more money, it premiered again in 1945, 1954, 1962, 1971, 1978, 1984, and 1992.  Pinocchio and many other characters from the film have a major presence at the Disney theme parks, plus Pinocchio himself has made cameos in other films: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (with Jiminy Cricket), Aladdin, Teacher's Pet (with the Blue Fairy) and Tangled.  Characters and worlds from Pinocchio have also made appearances in Sega Genesis, Gameboy, SuperNintendo, Playstation 2, PSP and Nintendo 3DS.  This is a film with a very large cultural impact.  Could you imagine animated fims withouth celebrity voice actors for instance?  (including almost all of the Disney catalog in recent years!)  Just think about the symbolic value of this film, which I know a lot of people (including myself) have never really warmed up to before.  Well, I think I can appreciate it now, can you?

OVERALL VERDICT:  4/5  Mickeys




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