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Review: Disney’s “Pinocchio” Signature Edition Brings Back a Timeless Tale


Today, the Walt Disney company has a well-established tradition of taking literary work and reinterpreting it for popular consumption with its own amicably creative twist, and the precedent for all of that began in 1940 with its second feature film Pinocchio. Based on Carlo Collodi’s 19th century children’s book The Adventures of Pinocchio, the movie amounts to a straightforward morality tale that remains resonant by virtue of its uncompromising depiction of the kindest and nastiest things that this wide world of ours has to offer.

In a slow-moving opening that most wouldn’t even contemplate today, Pinocchio opens with a heartwarming portrait of Geppetto, a kindly old tinker whose humble shop is a paradise of handmade clocks and knickknacks. A mundane version Kris Kringle, Geppetto has brought joy to many a soul over the years, so when the jolly old man makes a fanciful wish upon a star the fair “Blue Fairy” descends from above to grant his just reward as he sleeps. Geppetto’s newly completed puppet Pinocchio is given life with a condition: only by proving himself “brave, truthful and unselfish” can Pinocchio become a fully human “real boy” and truly fulfill Geppetto’s wish. Witnessing all this is the traveling Jiminy Cricket, who marvels at this turn of events (and the Blue Fairy’s charm) and is soon converted from a simple vagabond to the lad’s designated “conscience.” But as a naive newcomer to the world, Pinocchio finds that staying on the straight and narrow path isn’t always easy, nor is the right path always obvious. Can Pinocchio find his way, and does Jiminy have the wisdom and patience to guide him?

Pinocchio is a film of contrasting moods, delving deeper into the bleaker side of life at least as often as not. This makes it stand in pronounced contrast to the preceding Snow White. Geppetto is a proud and loving father all too happy to send his boy out into the world and to school at the first opportunity, while Pinocchio’s innocence and inherent happiness and goodness is infectious and endearing to behold. But all those traits are bundled with Pinocchio’s emotional immaturity and impressionable nature, which proves to be all too easily exploited by the anthropomorphic fox and professional swindler “Honest John”. Faced with the choice between going to school and enjoying himself as the lead act in a puppet show, Pinocchio chooses the later, and is summarily punished when show master Stromboli turns out to be a harsh and selfish man unworthy of the blind trust given to him. The iconic image of Pinocchio’s growing nose as a consequence to lies, moreover, follows his failure to heed Jiminy and offer far-fetched justifications for his trouble rather than honestly cope with his mistakes.

Perhaps the most striking scene in Pinocchio involves the so-called “Pleasure Island”, which doubles down on the themes and lessons of the prior incident – and rightly so, given that Pinocchio repeats the mistake of listening to Honest John for the promise of an ostensibly deserved “vacation” in a place with no rules. Pleasure Island compounds Pinocchio’s past flaws and errors by making him happily subservient to peer pressure as he indulges in one delinquent activity after another until it becomes clear that “Pleasure Island” is a trap to ensnare errant children into slavery by the noose of their own sins.

At a glance, the messages here may seem simple and basic. Don’t trust strangers, don’t lie, do what your parents tell you to do, don’t just blindly follow what seems like the easiest and most pleasurable path. And those things are there, which is not a poor thing in a movie obviously crafted with children clearly in mind. Beyond that, there’s also something a bit more substantial and healthy in the stark right-and-wrong morality here. The convention today for “family movies” in animation (and definitely in the case of Disney’s fare) is to fixate on following your dreams and be yourself, achieving both through some manner of quest. Packed into Pinocchio is the point that how one lives has meaning and consequence as well, and that a self-centered life is not synonymous with a good life. Pinocchio’s redemption and the film’s happy ending centers around Geppetto’s unconditional love for his son, and the lad’s own willingness to reciprocate in the face of danger. In all its myriad forms, love has power and redeems.

Disney’s Signature Edition rerelease of Pinocchio delivers a small measure of new supplemental material. “The Pinocchio Project: When You Wish Upon A Star” involves a brief featurette and music video offering a modern take on the classic song by musicians JR Aquino, Tanner Patrick and Alex G. The other new material delves deep into Disney history. “Walt’s Story Meetings: Pleasure Island” draws upon old transcripts, sketches and photographs, while interviews with historian J.B. Kaufman and Director Pete Docter to offer viewers a glimpse into the creative process behind the film’s memorable scene. “In Walt’s Words – Pinocchio”, meanwhile, represents under five minutes of archival footage from 1956 and commentary from Walt Disney himself about the making of the film and the way World War II impacted the studio. Together these two videos only comprise about 12 minutes of footage and are liable to leave Disney aficionados thirsty for more, but any glimpses into the past in this age are appreciated. The odd extra out is the short “Poor Papa”, a vintage Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon that seems included for novelty’s sake alone.

For those with the previous Blu-ray release of Pinocchio, I cannot say that what’s here amounts to a compelling reason to double dip or replace the earlier disc, particularly since this edition uses the same pristine remaster. Once again, Disney has been selective about including supplemental material issued in the past. Most notably the deleted song “Honest John” is not included here, nor are the eight Art Galleries present on the Platinum Edition (which I count as the biggest disappointment here for Disney enthusiasts). Those galleries represented a treasure trove of concept art, storyboards, reference photographs and more in addition to stills from the movie. The few minutes of historical content in the Signature Edition simply can’t begin to make up for their exclusion. The “Cine-Explore” feature of the previous release that drew on some of this reference material is gone as well, although mercifully the associated informative audio commentary starring J.B. Kaufman, Leonard Maltin and animator Eric Goldberg is still available.  Other legacy supplemental includes over ten minutes worth of deleted scenes in storyboard format, as well as the nearly hour-long documentary “No Strings Attached: The Making of Pinocchio.” “Geppettos Then and Now” is a ten-minute featurette spotlighting the history of vintage toymakers, while “The Sweatbox” draws on archival material to document the room where Walt Disney and his staff would gather to view storyboards and decide what material to use with Walt’s input. Standard-definition content includes a five minute making-of featurette that is entirely redundant and four minutes of comparisons between original storyboards and final footage, as well as the theatrical trailers composed for 1940, 1984 and 1992. It does bear mentioning that, like other Signature Editions from Disney so far, this release of Pinocchio adds value with a Digital HD copy that allows the film and its on-disc extras to be run on all manner of devices via the Disney Movies Anywhere service.

Ultimately, for collectors that put supplemental and creative material first, the Platinum Edition is still the closest one can get to a definitive release.  For the rest, Pinocchio remains a work of moral integrity and a classic worthy of attention, and what the Signature Edition offers in content and convenience is good for the price.