Pinocchio
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Pinocchio

Some movies that we see as children live within us forever. We first see them when we are at an age that our preferences are just beginning to form and a love for these special films becomes an aspect of our core personality. Many of the films like this have come from the Walt Disney studios and are a common part of childhood for most of us as we can remember back to our parents taking us to the theater to watch one of Disney’s animated classics. One of the most beloved of these movies is ‘Pinocchio’. It was first released to movie houses everywhere in 1940 and is now well on the third generation of kids and adults that loves it. ‘Pinocchio’ was the second film in the much lauded Disney animated canon coming in after 1937’s ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ and it is a sure bet that most children have seen this movie at least a few times in their lives. I remember watching it with my parents in a revival of older Disney movies in the theater. I saw it again on television and years later watched in on video tape with my own daughter. She is now in her twenties and is at that time in life when she will begin to think of starting a family of her own and I look forward to watching it with her again and a grandchild. This is just that kind of movie that is so filled with magic and wonder that no matter how many times you have seen it; no matter what age you are, you will be captivated by the film.

Originally the film did not do well in the box office but this was certainly not due to a lack of quality. World War II was raging in Europe and had begun to affect families here in the States. With rationing in effect and sons going off to war less people went to the movies. In subsequent theatrical releases it did much better and was soon embraced as a classic. A movie like this goes far beyond just being a great family friendly cartoon. It is also a piece of cinematic history. Animation had been around since the start of motion pictures but Walt Disney went past showing magic as part of the story; he created magic with his films. At the time this was the state of the art animation. Replacing the crude drawings that appeared to move were characters that had personalities which allowed the audience to identify with them. Kids could watch this silly little puppet and understand him. Parents would recognize that a moral lesson was part of the film and appreciated this message being given to their children but mostly they too were brought into the exciting world on the screen.

As noted there have been many incarnations of this film over the years. Looking back it is almost difficult to believe that the movie is now almost seventy years old and still seems fresh. Awhile back Disney released a re-mastered DVD of the movie but now they have once again pulled it out of their treasured vaults and once again provided a new master available for the first time in high definition as part of their new Platinum line of movies.

The original story was Pinocchio: Tale of a Puppet by Carlo Collodi and written in the 1880’s. It took a team of Disney screenwriters to bring it to the screen headed by Ted Sears. Like many of the other writers on the project he also worked on the previous animated film ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. This team understood how to craft a family film. The main character is young enough in personality and presentation that the kids will be drawn to him like a friend. There is also a strong parental presence not only in the in the simple wood carver who would be the puppet’s de facto father but in the persona of the little cricket that would act as his conscience. The story is full of magic and whimsy that has stood the test of time. There are also elements of danger and excitement infused in the story that will keep the children on the edge of their seats. Parents will be swept back to their first time watching as images from the film long buried in our memories rush to the surface.

In charge of directing this film was Hamilton Luske and Ben Sharpsteen. For both men this was the first time in charge of a feature length animation but Sharpsteen had considerable experience with many Disney shorts. It may not be immediately evident by directing an animated movie is more difficult than one with live action. Sure, there are fewer boundaries on the imagination and what can be brought to the screen but the directors have to wait for the artists to render the drawings before they can see how the film is progressing. In this case these men were also breaking new ground. Feature length animation was still new and there was nothing really around to guide them in their efforts. It also has to be stated that they did a remarkable job. The story is progressed naturally in the format of a fairytale told to a child on a rainy day. The set up is simple. Geppetto is a humble woodcarver who lives along in a cottage near a small town. He is lonely and wants nothing more than to have a son. One night he wishes on a star for his dream to come true as nearby the Blue Fairy is touched by his request. She grants life to a little wooden puppet that Geppetto crafted, Pinocchio. While the puppet is able to speak and move he is still made of wood. His dream is to one day become a real boy and son to Geppetto. The Blue Fairy is wise and knows that the innocent Pinocchio will not be able to navigate the real world on his own and assigns a vagabond cricket, Jiminy as his conscience. We all know the rest of the story with Pinocchio and his cricket friend falling in with a bad crowd and going to Pleasure Island and winding up swallowed by a great whale.

One of the most memorable moments of the film comes at the very start when Jiminy sings the immortal song ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’. The American Film Institute has honored this as the seventh best song in the history of cinema. It also won the Academy Award that year and would go on to become the theme song for the Disney organization. We have all heard Cliff Edwards sing this song hundreds of time but you haven’t really heard it until you watch and listen to this new Blu-ray version of the film. The DTS HD audio is mastered with up to 7.1 channels and each of them is perfect. Even a soundtrack of considerable age is made fresh and new by the treatment given to it in this release. I was amazed at just how good this film sounded. It has the depth and range that I never encountered in a vintage film such as this. Not only did Disney completely redo the audio the video was once again given a fresh lease on life. The colors are more vibrant than in any previous release. There is no sign of fading or drift in the color palette at all. One of the best parts of the Platinum series is the wonderful extras this release contains. The phrase ‘never before seen’ is thrown about a lot with DVDs but in this instance it is true. The people at Disney have searched through their archives and uncovered deleted scenes and an alternate ending that is presented for the first time here. There are games that the kids will enjoy for hours and the parents might even get into playing alongside them. A making of featurette details the production of the film and there is a trivia challenge to share with the whole family. A commentary track by film critic and historian Leonard Maltin is also on board. The way the film is presented is also new. There only version is the Blu-ray releases but those who have not yet moved up to high definition there is a DVD disc included in the set. You also have a digital copy for transfer to your computer so you can let the kids watch this on the road. ‘Pinocchio’ is one of the greatest animated films ever. It is a piece of film history and most importantly a part of our personal history and will live on for many years to come.

Posted 03/03/09

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