The Best Movie Critic + review

Pinocchio

You might recall my excitable, half-mad ramblings on Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs from a couple of months ago, where I may or may not have compared “happily ever after” to Nazi Germany. Regardless of whether or not Price Charming is a fascist, I want to make it clear that Snow White is a fantastic, beautiful, important, breathtaking movie. And like all of Disney’s new Blu-Ray releases of their classic catalogue, is spectacularly well done, if a little pricey. The colors, the movement, the intangible energy of this miraculous, improbable period in animation history light up my imagination. So I was understandably excited when the Pinocchio Blu-Ray showed up in the ol’ mailbox. Now, for the record, of course I have seen Pinocchio, and two months ago was not the first time I saw Snow White, either. However, probably the only Disney movie I’ve seen on this side of my 13th birthday is Robin Hood, so I’ve been making the effort to go back and revisit these movies – much to my partner Beth’s chagrin… That’s what love is all about, right? Graciously watching other generations’ infantile fantasies with your boyfriend? …right…? I suppose I should be happy to be with someone who thinks that Disney movies are lame and that instead we should watch Total Recall and Commando for the 800-billionth time.

Pinocchio opens with the same magic and grandeur as Snow White. The opening credits are beautifully colored paintings of text on wood, a soft, quiet beauty more than matched by Jiminy Cricket’s impossibly fragile croon of “If You Wish upon a Star.” The cynic in me is silenced immediately, and I can believe in the inherent goodness of life again.
The first 20 or so minutes of Pinocchio are on par with anything out of Snow White. All the ingredients for greatness are present. The music is magic. The atmosphere is timeless. Jiminy Cricket is like all seven dwarfs mashed into one loveable, nostalgic, heartwarming, silly package. Geppetto's dance number with the pre-life'd Pinocchio gives the Disney animators a forum to show off in ways that the second act of Snow White only hinted at. Just watch the way Jiminy Cricket interacts with the mechanical objects in Geppetto's cookoo clocks. Even when Jiminy jokingly impersonates a clockwork figurine, the animators differentiate between the movements of the biological creature and those of the machine. It's astounding.

Jiminy Cricket, while aesthetically Dickensian, is in character more like something out of Mark Twain or even Boccaccio. It’s ironic that the lil’ guy who will become Pinocchio’s conscience has a tough time telling right from wrong himself. Though he has a good heart, Jiminy Cricket is perhaps too accustomed to the “ways of the world,” if the way he ogles Geppetto’s mechanical clock women is any indication. This is played as “all in good fun,” and it is, but there’s no denying that Jiminy’s own moral compass confusion leads to a few sticky situations for Pinocchio later on.

Why then, does everything get so muddled the morning after Pinocchio first comes to life? This movie's beginning hangs together so well. So why and how is the magic lost? For starters, it was probably a bad idea to make the pair of ne'er-do-wells who hoodwink Pinocchio an anthropomorphic fox and cat who wear clothes and top hats and hang out with humans. It doesn't make sense in this universe, just as it wouldn't make sense in Snow White. I know, I know, the narrator is a talking, top hat-wearing cricket. I've been racking my brain all week trying to figure out what the difference is. I think what it comes down to is that Jiminy Cricket doesn't interact with the human characters. In effect, he's sort of Pinocchio's imaginary friend. Honest John the fox walks down the street in broad daylight like it's no big deal.

And what's worse is that the animation takes a dive around the same time the plot does. The extended bird's eye view shot of Honest John and Pinocchio singing and dancing down the street has got to be one of the most garishly colored, poorly framed, shoddily animated images in the early Disney repertoire.

Sure there are great moments after that. The “I Got No Strings” song and dance number is perfectly terrifying. And though haphazardly plotted, the Monstro the Whale sequence has it's charm. But once it's gone, the magic never comes back. The story has no real internal logic, except for maybe “everything is magic.” Seriously, a fairy comes to earth to give life to a puppet. Okay, I can get behind that. But then there are talking foxes and boys that turn into donkeys and a man living well enough inside the belly of a giant whale. I don't get it. The smack-your-head-and-say-do'h low point of the movie is when a heavenly dove delivers a magic letter to Pinocchio explaining where Geppetto has run off to. Deus ex machina's aren't usually literally God, right? Like I said before, everything is magic. And to mutilate a quote from the Incredibles, if everything is magic, than nothing is.

Do I dare go on to Bambi and Dumbo? I don't think my residual nostalgia memory can take any more heartbreak from the Disney camp.

-Ben

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