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PINOCCHIO

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Cliff Edwards, Dickie Jones
Directors:  Hamilton Luske, Ben Sharpsteen
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  Disney
Features:  Theatrical Trailer
Length:  88 Minutes
Release Date:  October 26, 1999

Film ****

After a long period of non-committal, Disney has finally begun to release its animated classics on DVD, and they picked one of the best films in their library to kick it off.

What a classic is Pinocchio.  Walt Disney’s second full length animated feature surpassed his original Snow White in many ways.  It had better characters, better story, and some classic morals to go along with it.  All with the usual bevy of wonderful songs to accompany the tale.

Who doesn’t know the story of the little wooden puppet who comes to life, only to find that his goal of becoming a real boy will be a constant struggle against right and wrong?  Most of us grew up with it, and learned many a lesson from Pinocchio’s misadventures, including the values of honesty, respecting your parents, staying in school, and more.

The film brings Pinocchio to life…as a puppet and as a story…with great characterizations, imaginative animation, and terrific musical numbers.  Disney also created one of cartoons’ most beloved and enduring figures in Jiminy Cricket, voiced by the delightful Cliff Edwards.  It’s Jiminy, of course, who finds himself with the daunting task of being the conscience of an easily misled puppet.

Some have been critical of the frightening elements of Pinocchio, but they have missed the point.  This was never meant to be a cute story with a couple of scary moments, according to Walt Disney.  It was a nightmare with a few lighter moments.  Let’s face it, the “children’s stories” we often tell our kids have some pretty scary elements to them, and if you’ve ever read the original book, you’ll know that Disney toned down the frightening aspects quite a bit (and thankfully, omitted the scene early on where the puppet steps on the cricket).

And oh, what would the film have been without those sequences?  Nothing in my youth was quite so disturbing as the idea that the “stupid little boys” on pleasure islands literally turned into donkeys.  Seeing Lampwick’s transformation first hand was quite a jolt—and packed a message I don’t think I ever forgot.  Or what of the monstrous Monstro, the whale?  The sequences with him were stunning, thrilling, and yes, even a little scary.  They made for one of the most memorable climaxes in animation history.  I’m sure these images have made lasting impressions on generations of kids, but still, no harm done.  I’ll accept a little scare every time when it means that young imaginations are being opened wider.

In this era of computer generated images (which do create spectacular visual results), I can only hope that we fans never lose our sense of marvel at a classic like Pinocchio, which was drawn and inked entirely by hand, and the amount of imagination, talent, and dedication it took a small but elite group of artists to create this and other films from the fledgling days of animation.   It is simply mind boggling, and I know this much…even if I had the talent, I’d never have that kind of patience.

One interesting aside, for those who are interested in such things—Pinocchio also marked the first use of a recurring motif in Walt Disney’s films, that of the ineffectual and/or goofy father figure.  Here, Geppetto is a good man, but never has the ability to really help Pinocchio, and in the end, he himself ends up having to be rescued by his own son.  This theme has surfaced time and time again, from the father in Bambi who is constantly a distant figure with no paternal presence in his son’s life, to the goofy caricatures of the kings in Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella.  Many critics have ascribed this tendency to Walt’s lack of a relationship with his own father.  Like I mentioned, just something to ponder if you really want to.

Video ****

This movie will probably never look better than it does on this DVD.  Pinocchio underwent some massive restoration a few years ago, and that, in combination with THX certification, makes for a remarkable transfer.  Despite the film’s age, the print looks very clean, with little in the way of noticeable scars.  Colors are bright and vibrant, and images are generally very sharp and consistent.  And even with such a short running time, Disney opted to make this a dual layered disc for a minimum of compression, and that too, adds to the wonderful results.  Occasionally, there is a bit of shimmer around the edges, but not much, and certainly nothing distracting. 

Audio ***1/2

The disc also boasts a new 5.1 soundtrack, with a newfound sense of clarity and crispness.  I couldn’t notice any noise or distortion.  The multi-channel mix is not so much for sound effects and crossovers as it is to utilize your other speakers in brining more range and fullness to the music, songs, and spoken words.  Overall, you can’t ask for much better from Disney’s first offering of an animated classic on DVD.

Features *

Only a trailer.  The documentary that was included on the VHS version is not included on the DVD.

Summary:

Some wishes really do come true.  Pinocchio is not just an animated classic…it is a landmark film in American cinema.  Boasting a THX transfer, this disc is simply a must own for any movie fan.  But, as always, Disney only makes their animated classics available for a limited time, so don’t wait too long to add this timeless classic to your library.