Published on July 11, 2016
Pinocchio is a 1940 American animated musical fantasy film produced by Walt Disney Productions and based on the Italian children’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. It was the second animated feature film produced by Disney, made after the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).
The plot of the film involves an old wood-carver named Geppetto who carves a wooden puppet named Pinocchio. The puppet is brought to life by a blue fairy, who informs him that he can become a real boy if he proves himself to be “brave, truthful, and unselfish”. Pinocchio’s efforts to become a real boy involve encounters with a host of unsavory characters. The film was adapted by Aurelius Battaglia, William Cottrell, Otto Englander, Erdman Penner, Joseph Sabo, Ted Sears, and Webb Smith from Collodi’s book. The production was supervised by Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton Luske, and the film’s sequences were directed by Norman Ferguson, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, and Bill Roberts. Pinocchio was a groundbreaking achievement in the area of effects animation, giving realistic movement to vehicles, machinery and natural elements such as rain, lightning, smoke, shadows and water. The film was released to theaters by RKO Radio Pictures on February 23, 1940.
Critical analysis of Pinocchio identifies it as a simple morality tale that teaches children of the benefits of hard work and middle-class values. Although it became the first animated feature to win a competitive Academy Award – winning two for Best Music, Original Score and for Best Music, Original Song for “When You Wish Upon A Star” – it was initially a box office disaster. It eventually made a profit in its 1945 reissue, and is considered one of the greatest animated films ever made, with a rare 100% rating on the website Rotten Tomatoes. The film and characters are still prevalent in popular culture, featuring at various Disney parks and in other forms of entertainment. In 1994, Pinocchio was added to the United States National Film Registry for being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
After singing the film’s signature song “When You Wish Upon a Star”, Jiminy Cricket explains that he is going to tell a story of a wish coming true. His story begins in the Tuscany workshop of a woodworker named Geppetto. Jiminy watches as Geppetto finishes work on a wooden marionette whom he names Pinocchio (a name his cat Figaro and fish Cleo both dislike). Before falling asleep, Geppetto makes a wish on a star that Pinocchio would be a real boy. During the night, a Blue Fairy visits the workshop and brings Pinocchio to life, although he still remains a puppet. She informs him that if he proves himself brave, truthful, and unselfish, he will become a real boy, and assigns Jiminy to be his conscience.
Gideon and Honest John
Geppetto discovers that his wish has come true, and is filled with joy. However, on his way to school, Pinocchio is led astray by Honest John the Fox and his companion, Gideon the Cat, who convince him to join Stromboli’s puppet show, despite Jiminy’s objections. Pinocchio becomes Stromboli’s star attraction as a marionette who can sing and dance without strings while performing with marionettes of Dutch girls, French can-can girls, and Russian Cossacks. However, when Pinocchio wants to go home for the night, Stromboli locks him up in a birdcage. Jiminy arrives to see Pinocchio, and is unable to free him. The Blue Fairy then appears, and asks Pinocchio why he wasn’t at school. Jiminy urges Pinocchio to tell the truth, but instead he starts telling lies, which causes his nose to grow longer and longer. Pinocchio vows to be good from now on, and the Blue Fairy restores his nose back to its original form and sets them free, while warning him that this will be the last time she can help him.
Meanwhile, across town, Honest John and Gideon meet a coachman who promises to pay them big money if they can find foolish little boys for him to take to Pleasure Island. Encountering Pinocchio on his way home, they convince him that he needs to take a vacation there. On the way to Pleasure Island, he befriends Lampwick, a delinquent boy. With no rules or authority to enforce their activity, Pinocchio and the other boys soon enjoy smoking, gambling, vandalizing, and getting drunk, much to Jiminy’s dismay. Later, while trying to get home, Jiminy discovers that the island hides a horrible curse: the boys brought to Pleasure Island literally transform into donkeys, who are then sold into slave labor. Jiminy runs back to warn Pinocchio, only to find that Lampwick fully transformed into a terrified donkey; Pinocchio manages to escape, only partially transformed.
Upon returning home, Pinocchio and Jiminy find the workshop empty. They soon discover (through a message left by the Blue Fairy) that Geppetto had ventured out to search for Pinocchio, but was swallowed by a giant whale named Monstro, and is now living in his belly. Determined to rescue his father, Pinocchio jumps into the sea, with Jiminy accompanying him. Pinocchio is soon also swallowed by Monstro, where he is reunited with Geppetto. Pinocchio devises a plan to make Monstro sneeze, giving them a chance to escape. The plan works, but the enraged whale chases them, and smashes their raft. Pinocchio pulls Geppetto to safety in a cave before Monstro crashes into it. They are all washed up on a beach on the other side. Geppetto, Figaro, Cleo, and Jiminy survive, but Pinocchio lies motionless face down in a tide pool. Back home, the group mourns for him. The Blue Fairy, however, decides that Pinocchio has proven himself brave, truthful, and unselfish, that he is reborn as a real human boy (his donkey ears and tail also gone), and everyone celebrates. Jiminy steps outside to thank the Fairy, and is rewarded by a solid gold badge that certifies him as an official conscience.
Dickie Jones as Pinocchio, a wooden puppet carved by Geppetto, and turned into a living puppet by the Blue Fairy. Jones also provided the voice of Alexander, a boy transformed into a donkey.
Cliff Edwards as Jiminy Cricket, a cheerful and wise cricket, who acts as Pinocchio’s “conscience”, and the partial narrator of the story.
Christian Rub as Mister Geppetto, a kind and elderly woodcarver, who creates Pinocchio, and wishes for him to become a real boy.
Walter Catlett as “Honest” John Worthington Foulfellow, a sly anthropomorphic red fox, and the main antagonist of the film, who tricks Pinocchio twice in the film.
Gideon the Cat, Honest John’s mute, crafty, and anthropomorphic feline sidekick. He was originally intended to be voiced by Mel Blanc of Looney Tunes fame (in his second work for Disney until his final work in Who Framed Roger Rabbit), but the filmmakers removed his dialogue from the script in favor of a mute performance (e.g. Harpo Marx) just like Dopey in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. However, Gideon’s hiccups were provided by Blanc.
Charles Judels as Stromboli, a large, sinister, bearded Italian puppet-maker, who forces Pinocchio to perform onstage in order to make money. He speaks with an Italian accent, and curses in Italian when he gets angry, though he is identified as a gypsy. He is the only antagonist of the film to be part of the official Disney Villains line-up. Judels also voiced the devious and sadistic Coachman, owner and operator of Pleasure Island, who enjoys turning unruly boys into donkeys.
Evelyn Venable as The Blue Fairy, who brings Pinocchio to life, and turns him into a real boy at the end of the film.
Frankie Darro as Lampwick, a naughty boy that Pinocchio befriends on his way to Pleasure Island. He is turned into a donkey on Pleasure Island.