Sunday, January 17, 2010

#2: Pinocchio (1940)

Disney had a tough act to follow in making his second picture, and decided upon Pinocchio, the tale of a poor ol' woodcrafter who wished for his marionette to be a real boy. And hey, it worked! Almost. With the Blue Fairy's magic and a conscious embodied in a ragamuffin cricket, Pinocchio can only become fully flesh-and-blood if he is honest and true, but it ain't so easy when you've got greedy evil characters roaming about. Through Jiminy Cricket's urgings, Pinocchio eventually manages to stay on the straightened arrow and save his papa from the belly of a giant whale. ...yeah.

I was a little less enamored by this movie, I gotta say; there were just a few things about it that were kind of off. The storytelling isn't as seamless as 'Snow White,' most of it feels very episodic, only connected by the Blue Fairy bailing Pinocchio out when he falters. And strangely, as famous as Pinocchio is for his lie-growing nose, it really only happens in that one scene. And he never really has any moment of redemption in telling the truth, so that story point doesn't go anywhere. Nor do the swindler characters Honest John, who are thrown out of the movie by the sinister British guy who owns Pleasure Island. I mean, the movie's really not about them, and it makes sense in that Pinocchio's "adversaries" get larger and larger (petty swindlers to an evil Svengali to a monstrous whale ), but there's a lot of focus on them for it to be brushed off like that. Also, why are these fox characters anthropomorphic, when Gheppetto's cat is like a regular cat? You expect me to believe what? A wizard did it? Please.

Putting story matters aside though, this movie looks amazing. All the animation tricks pulled in 'Snow White' are improved and built upon incredibly well. Everything from Gheppetto's home with all the amazingly designed and animated clocks, to Strombolli's theater to Pleasure Island, all the scenes are done with such care to detail and pleasing to the eye. The character animation has gone up too; the acting on Honest John and his mute schmuck partner is astounding, as are the incredibly lifelike, yet still silly marionettes in Pinocchio's big number, not to mention the hulking, bombastic Strombolli (I wish he were in more of the movie, he's that great to watch, and listen to). Even if the characters aren't as relatable, the movie looks so well done, and is just a lot of fun to watch.

However, I'd say the biggest strike 'Pinocchio' has against it is Jiminy Cricket. He brings us into the movie, acting like an innocuous observer, and then gets bumped up to the role as the puppet's conscious. But with the opening focus laid on him, we lose out on getting any backstory or character build-up on Gheppetto, or why he wants his puppet to be real. Once Pinocchio is set loose into the world, a lot of focus is still laid on the cricket, who isn't really much of a character, as he really just fumbles around, and his only saving grace is attempting to help out and guide Pinocchio. He might have been better off in a smaller role, so more focus could be on Pinocchio and his battling with his conscious, but instead there really isn't much connection with the two at all, which is kind of strange.

...speaking of strange, this movie's full of it. I mean, think about Pleasure Island. Some creepy old man collects naughty boys to run amuck in his pleasure palace, where they can drink and smoke all they want, until that turns them into donkeys which he can force to work in his underground salt mines. HOLY shit. And it's not sugar-coated either. He's throwing those donkeys around when they're still shivering and talking like little kids. It's so fucked up. It makes the whale climax seem normal by comparison.

Verdict? Not as strong film-wise as 'Snow White,' but has a lot more great animation and artistry. Plus it's so fucked up toward the end, that it's got to be seen to believed. Even though all the "vices" are shown in a negative light (and turns you into a literal jackass), there's no way you could do this now. Cartoon characters won't be smokin' and drinkin' in kid's cartoons no more... what a shame.

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