"Pinocchio" is probably the only Disney film where the magic operates almost instantly, using its most representative score for the opening credits. As soon as we hear these magic lyrics of the Oscar-winning "When You Wish Upon a Star", we know we're embarked in a whole new dimension, a unique world that only the perseverance and creativity of Disney animators could have lead us to. It became Disney's most defining music, embodying all the values that Disney films stood for: believing in dreams, believing in the ability to 'give life' to drawn characters. The making of the film plays like a poetic allegory, Disney studios ' animators are all little Gepetto's with the same craftsmanship and dedication to their work, and the blue Fairy tale is Walt Disney giving them lives and dreams, something enabling us to identify with them. "I Dream, therefore I Am" sounds like Disney's cogito.
We instantly identify with "Pinocchio" for his dreams to be a real boy, to be a reason for his gentle father's pride. Yet the movie doesn't deal with this existentialist issue, the core of the action in "Pinocchio" –which on this level, remains one of the most thrilling animated adventures- is the temptation. Tasting jam, stealing, not going to school, lying, childhood is the most exposed moments to temptations, everything is new then everything looks pretty, and when the standard for kids is to obey to authoritarian figures who know the best for them, the most precious lesson in "Pinocchio" is not to obey for the sake of obedience but to follow his conscience, to differentiate between right or wrong. That's what being a real boy is about, being unselfish, trustful and brave, not being obedient. And that, my friends, is quite thought-provoking in the way it recognizes a right for children to exercise their free will, but not without a vital element.
On that level, the character of Jiminy Cricket is a great invention because he embodies the necessity of a conscience, while most of the time; we can see Pinocchio making his own decisions without questioning Jiminy. Temptation is the ugly cousin of unconsciousness and remains a predominant figure in the movie, always incarnated by adult figures. This aspect conveys the perfect feeling of childhood, a period of our life when we're small and therefore most likely to follow the bigger ones, any adult is a potential parent, and while our parents are the ones who say 'no' or 'don't'. As kids, we're most eager to follow those who say 'yes' and 'do'. Foulfellow and Gideon, the fox and the mute cat are the intermediaries between Pinocchio and the two main villains of the film so even if the duo was meant to be a comic relief, I always found them scary in the way they tried to ruin Pinocchio's life twice.
Naturally, as a film conveying a perfect lesson about life, trust, and temptation, it features two villains that had probably inspired many nightmares. From Stromboli and his scary lips, as the ruthless puppeteer who wants to make fortune with the only puppet without strings or the Coachman, the films echoes children's most inner fears: being exploited, tortured and abused by ruthless adults. The image of Stromboli throwing Pinocchio in his cage or the close-up on the Coachman's devilish face, prove that "Pinocchio" is darker and more daring than it seems. And to those who associate Disney with cute little animals and singing flowers, I invite them to watch carefully the Pleasure Island sequence, and to see the cute Pinocchio smoking a cigar and drinking a beer with his buddy Lampwick. This sequence alone highlights the dangers of exercising free will without questioning good old conscience.
And what follows is another demonstration of Disney's cinematic talent, when we see what happen to the poor boys that made 'jackasses' of themselves. The heart-breaking part when a little Alexander cries for his mommy is scary enough, but kids had to face the metamorphosis of Pinocchio's buddy, his face changing, and the voice of his "Mommmma" turning into hysterical braying and desperate glass breaking to measure the danger of making a fool of yourself. This scene alone is one of the most horrific of cinema's history and works as a magnificent symbolism, mirroring the calmer and most poetic moment when Pinocchio's lie makes his nose grow "until it's as plain as a nose in your face". Disney has a unique talent to speak through simple images universal statements about childhood and coming of age, and I wonder how many kids thought twice before lying or acting 'jackasses'.
The second intervention of the blue Fairy tale informs Pinocchio that his father is in the belly of Monstro, the whale, which leads to the climactic confrontation with the only villain of the film that would be defeated. The part where he swims to Monstro with Jiminy is magnificent and the escape is totally gripping thanks to the patient build-up that made us figure Monstro's reputation and the film's unique use of special effects. The whole film is a masterpiece of innovation and technical accomplishment, with so many zooms and close-up, dominating space and screen like only Disney could have done, the action sequences, the panoramic views on the village the animation of the Fairy tale, were so impressive that I can't count how many times I wondered what the film would have been like in the movie theater.
But how many animated films now would show a kid drinking or smoking, turning into a donkey and not even being saved, "Pinocchio" is a film that dares to portray kids the way they sometimes do for the sake of intelligence, while 70 years later, for the sake of political correctness, kids have to endure sappy and moralizing educative cartoons. If only for a film like "Pinocchio", Walt Disney is the greatest entertainer who ever lived, because one of the few that truly understood what being children meant.