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70 years of Disney's Pinocchio
by Asa Butcher
2010-02-07 09:59:25
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Disney's Pinocchio
Directed by Hamilton Luske & Ben Sharpsteen
Walt Disney Productions, 1940

Children copiously smoking cigars, drinking alcohol, lying, calling one another “jackass” and transforming into donkeys aren't really facets you would find in many modern children's films, let alone one released by Walt Disney Studios, but seven decades ago the world was a wholly different place. One year into a second world war, Walt Disney produced his second feature-length animated masterpiece, Pinocchio, and today it is a classic still enjoyed by children and parents around the world, which suggests that those aforementioned morally-dubious facets are the key to longevity!

As we all know, Disney Studios took its time to create any original stories and Pinocchio is no different. Taken from Italian Carlo Collodi's 1883 book The Adventures of Pinocchio, our hero is made by a lonely woodcarver named Geppetto whose wish for the puppet to become a real boy is granted, although, having not read the original book, I can't say whether any cigars appear clamped between the teeth of its younger characters – I suspect not and I'm sure the book is all-the-poorer for it!

I recently watched the restored 70th anniversary edition with my four year-old daughter and was impressed at how this decades-old film captured her attention and engaged her emotions; I can say she was a bit flushed with concern during the final “escape from the whale” scenes and found the humour just as fresh as her counterparts back in the 1940s. The new digital transfer has vastly improved both the sound and the colours resulting in the initiated to believe this is a recent release rather than the grandfather of the medium. Okay, perhaps the overt tobacco consumption could date the film a bit...

It took eight writers to give Collodi's wooden character his own film and two directors to oversee the production, but thankfully it wasn't a case of “too many cooks” with a list of great songs - who doesn't know "When You Wish Upon a Star", "Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee" or "I've Got No Strings"? -, memorable characters, such as Jiminy Cricket, Honest John and all the people on Pleasure Island, and a good sprinkling of Disney Magic with the Blue Fairy to ensure this film would become a staple of childhood for years to come.

When you think of Pinocchio it is the infamous nose-growing longer when the little wooden boy lies, but, you may be surprised to learn, that is only one scene. The film is actually an excellent moral lesson for its viewers as it introduces them to naivety, manipulation, trust, dedication and love - if only we all had our conscience embodied in a little grasshopper who wears a top hat and tails, plus carries an umbrella! Pinocchio is on a journey of self-discovery and this is never an easy ride, especially if you are made from pine, but it did enrapture my daughter for its running time - in fact, she watched the whole film standing, unable to relax!

In 1993 Playboy stated that there are 43 instances of violence and other unfavourable behaviour, including 23 instances of battery, nine acts of property damage, three slang uses of the word "jackass," three acts of violence involving animals, two shots of male nudity, and one instance of implied death… it sounds more like Tarantino than Walt Disney! However, the songs and music resulted in Pinocchio becoming the first animated film to win an Academy Award in a competitive category - the film actually won two Oscars - and would claim the second spot in the American Film Institute's Ten Top Ten in the Animation category, only beaten by its precursor, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, all of which are hugely justifiable.

Happy 70th Birthday, little pine nut!

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