Saturday, April 2, 2016
I got no strings, except the National Film Registry.
This is one of those movies that has always foxed me. It's not that it's not technically excellent. From an animation standpoint, it is consistently ranked as one of the best movies ever made. It's just what a strange story to pick to adapt to a Disney movie. The original book was meant to be a tragedy starring a rather mean-spirited prankster who squashed Jiminy Cricket and eventually is lynched by the fox and cat. Part of me really wonders why Walt Disney would go "Yeah, that's the one we want to animate!". And then some of the other choices - like, why is Geppetto vaguely Bavarian when he's obviously supposed to be Italian? Why does Pinocchio dress in Tyrolean clothes? And then choices that were in the book, but that always confused me. Honest John and Gideon are startled by the appearance of a living marionette, but no one at all is startled by a human-sized talking fox and cat? And did we really need Stromboli to do a butt dance when he mentioned Constantinople?
Like I said, from a technical standpoint, this is a truly excellent film. The animation is an absolute triumph, with everything being rich in detail, ambitious camera angles, amazing colors, and a depth that is lacking in most animated pictures of the time - hell, that's lacking in a lot of animated pictures today. The underwater scenes are as beautiful a creation as anything put to film. Figaro moves exactly like a real kitten, the various puppets move like puppets, and you can see the forerunners of the gorgeous underwater ballet in Fantasia in the movements of Cleo the fish. Pretty much the only place detail was scrimped was in animating the various hordes of children. There's also an appropriate darkness, with the Coachman being perhaps the most neglected Disney villain, despite the fact that he's probably the most terrifying. Maybe that's why he doesn't get fans - the others have some element of interest, while he's just straight up despicable. I was terrified of this movie for years because of the Pleasure Island bit. But that was also always an element that bothered me. Pinocchio is supposed to be a pretty straightforward morality play. Be good, and good things will happen, be bad, and truly terrible things will happen. But the plot seems to forget that Pinocchio was literally born yesterday. All his "badness" happens when he is essentially kidnapped by Honest John and Gideon at various points, and he doesn't know enough to say "No". Of course, Jiminy Cricket gets some of the blame, but don't you think he could have at least gotten a crash course in "You do these things and not these things" before they sent him out on his own? All of the trouble could have been avoided if anyone had bothered explaining anything to him.
This is a film I'll always have mixed feelings about. I can't say enough good things about the art and the animation, but the plot and the characters leave me cold.