There’s no Disney movie that fascinates me more than “Pinocchio” and I’m pretty excited about watching it on the new 70th anniversary edition Blu-ray (it hit stores this past Tuesday, I’m going to buy one this weekend). The breathtaking artwork, the unforgettable music, the characters, the mix of innocence and the sinister — it stands as a staggering achievement in the Disney canon. Last year, the American Film Institute ranked it as the second best animated film ever, right behind “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” but I’d argue that it’s actually a better film than that milestone 1937 release.
Dave Kehr had an interesting piece this week in the New York Times about “Pinocchio,” which was released in 1940 a week after St. Valentine’s Day (yes, the anniversary edition is about 11 months early). “Pinocchio” was just the second full-length Disney animated feature and the first to win an Oscar in a competitive category. Here’s a bit from Kehr’s brainy breakdown of the grand old puppet movie…
Loosely based on a 19th-century children’s novel by Carlo Collodi, “Pinocchio” remains a technical summit of hand-drawn animation, executed with a grace and expressiveness of movement that even Disney’s artists were never quite able to recapture. On one level it is about the wonder of its own existence: the little wooden boy who comes to life is a metaphor for Disney’s process of creation, turning ink and paint into three-dimensional creatures that seem to breathe with a force of their own.
Although Disney used voices that audiences of the time might have recognized, these were not the A-list stars routinely drafted today to lend their familiar personalities to animated characters. The most celebrated member of the cast was Cliff Edwards, a popular vocalist of the 1920s who had a hit with an early recording of “Singin’ in the Rain.” His soft Southern vowels help to shape Jiminy Cricket, but the voice does not define the character, which emerges instead through line, color and the distinctive tilt of his head.
In adapting Collodi, Disney turned a social novel into a psychological one about, like so much of Disney’s work, the agony of growing up and the impossibility of resistance. The most nocturnal of animated films, “Pinocchio” begins with a vision of a clean, well-lighted place — Geppetto’s workshop — snugly barricaded against the cold uncertainties of the outside world. Over the course of the three episodes that constitute the main story, the palette turns chillier and the spaces expand to dizzying proportions, culminating with the near-black-and-white rendering of the undersea world of Monstro the Whale.
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– Geoff Boucher