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Movie Crash Course: Pinocchio

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So there’s something you all should know about me – even as a kid, I had little patience for a movie if I felt like the plot or dialogue had flaws.  An animated film like Pinocchio could be beautifully drawn and flawlessly animated, but if there was anything that sounded “off” about the way the characters talked, I’d notice.  If there was something about the plot that was far-fetched I wouldn’t buy it.  And if there were any moments that felt slow or indulgent, especially if they were indulging in something “cute”, I’d get bored.  I don’t know if this was because I was just precocious or just read a lot at an early age, or what.  I say this because that means that the child me would have been as “meh” about Pinocchio as adult me was.

I mean, it wasn’t awful.  We’re all familiar with the tale by now, of the little puppet who has been brought to life and is striving to earn the right to be turned all the way into a real boy.  I knew several of the plot points in advance – the Blue Fairy appearing, check, Monstro the Whale, check, Pleasure Island and donkeys, check.  There are some chuckleworthy little gags throughout – Jiminy Cricket bedding down in wee little matchbox, the tall tale Pinocchio spins the first time he lies, Pinocchio’s reaction to smoking a cigar; things like that. But that’s just it – several of the chuckleworthy gags ended up falling just over the line between cute and indulgent, and I felt things dragging in spots.

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One detail I may have bought as a child which gave me pause today was the inclusion of the characters “Honest John” and “Gideon”, the pair of ne’er-do-wells that lure Pinocchio away from school for their own gain.  Honest John is an anthropomorphic fox, and Gideon a similarly anthropomorphic – but mute – cat.  However, almost every other animal in the film is a proper animal – Monstro the whale, Gepetto’s pet kitten Figaro, various birds and beasts all.  But John and Gideon are gallivanting around town and heading to taverns and cutting deals with gypsy marionette shows as big as life, and no one remarks on the fact that they are a talking fox and a Silent-Bob cat. Yes, Jiminy Cricket is another anthropomorphic creature, but he spends the film trying to hide from other people, revealing himself only to Pinocchio, so it’s easier to accept him as part of the “magic” underworld.  John and Gideon, however, are a weird sort of Zootopia element in 19th Century Italy that had me puzzled.

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There are things to like about the film, mind.  The lovely “When You Wish Upon A Star” is one; that deservedly won Disney its first “Best Original Song” Oscar (the first of many), and stands head and shoulders above any of the other songs from the movie.  There’s also some lovely animation, particularly during a sequence where Pinocchio and Jiminy are underwater in a search for Monstro – sure, there’s a moment or two where Jiminy has “cute” encounters with chubby-cheeked fish, but there’s also a group of tuna animated with a lifelike attention to detail.  And the very space Pinocchio and Jiminy move through ripples and shifts and shimmers like water, and I’m still wondering how the animators did that.  The Academy was also impressed, awarding the animator team the second of Pinocchio‘s two Oscars.

Overall, though, this got shrug and a “meh” from me. Pleasant, cute, but that’s about it.

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