Someone must have been wishing upon a star after 2003’s extras-lite dispatch of Walt Disney’s second animated feature.
Chiselling into the archives, Disney has delivered a forest’s worth of extras to carve through. Puzzles, sing-a-long options, a learned and passionate commentary peppered with archive voices from history-land, a mighty big Making Of, deleted songs, deleted scenes with context-setting intros… It’s all here, all of properly pristine quality.
Territory well trod includes the flick’s fraught birth pangs. Snow White had been dismissed as ‘Disney’s folly’ but it became, as animation history chap Jerry Beck tells us, “the Titanic of its day.” How do you follow that success? Not easily. Uncle Walt halted production six months in to wipe the wood clean, worried that it wasn’t sufficiently endearing. Where was the heart to hook young audiences? It was here that Jiminy Cricket became foregrounded as the boy-of-bark’s conscience, a loveable friend in times of need, despite the little critter meeting a mallet in Carlo Collodi’s source story.
Did Disney deliver? The commentators here argue so, with palpable passion: one pundit even pitches Pinocchio as “the ultimate expression of what is possible in the craft of the animated film.” An overstatement perhaps, but seven decades on it does stand on its own two legs without a wobble.
Granted, you can take issue with the movie’s moral thrust. Pinocchio’s quest to become a real boy stumbles on preachy subtext when he’s exposed to Pleasure Island’s carnivalesque clamour, where little hoodlums deface famous paintings, booze, smash windows, brawl, smoke (“Come in and smoke your heads off!”), shoot pool and then receive their just desserts. That punishment proves darkly delicious: the lads literally become jackasses for the creepy Coachman’s employ. Terry Gilliam has declared his love for these “eerie images of kids turning into donkeys and all manner of strangeness”. No wonder: moralising aside, the imagery is indelible.
Songwise, you can hear why Spielberg kept ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ close to him while skywatching for Close Encounters, while an ocean-floor jaunt sets a precedent for Finding Nemo’s trippy plunges. At the heart of this art is the thrill of the then-new: when Pinocchio hits sea-base and gushes “Gee! What a big place!”, we share a sense of joy at the filmmakers’ creative adventures.
Stromboli the puppeteer is the stuff of kids’ frightmares, but Disney did find the tale’s heart, too: get ready to blub with Geppetto over little wooden-nose’s near-death. Ultimate expression of animated film? Maybe not. But a terrific movie, sumptuously disc-served? Absolutely.