I think that when all of us were kids we had one or two movies that we loved so much that we sat down and watched them dozens of times. For me one of those movies was Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night, which is definitely a lesser known animated feature but all the same still holds up today. After ordering a copy from Amazon.com and watching it again all these years later, I was pleasantly surprised that Emperor entertained me even at my usually cynical age.
Sure, you could nitpick that the animation is inconsistent, with some scenes appearing less detailed while others are excessively so, and that certain backgrounds are obviously repeated during chase scenes ala The Flintstones (it's even more pronounced here due to the visible line in the visuals), but frankly those didn't hamper my enjoyment of the film. The animation is usually quite vibrant and expressive, and the story takes the usual Pinocchio antics in a different direction by providing an actual villain in the uber-creepy Emperor (voiced by that staple of movie villains, James Earl Jones). In fact, much of the movie is downright dark, from the opening sequence where a demented carnival seems to set itself up to Pinocchio's transformation back into a puppet. I'm not saying any of this will scare kids today, as they've probably seen much worse, but it does give a good balance to the otherwise cheerful imagery.
I can't get through this review without mentioning the handful of songs which are peppered throughout Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night. I can't get enough of "Love Is The Light Inside Your Heart," which is just a beautiful little pop ballad that I can't get out of my head because it's so memorable. True, the Fairy Godmother may sound like she's doped up during her speaking lines, but the song is great. "Neon Cabaret" is more of a background song than "Love," but it still has a nice little jazz beat that goes well with its scene, a night club where children basically throw back green alcohol (come on ya know it was alcohol) and go nuts. Finally there's "Your A Star," which while not a phenomenal song once again fits with the visuals of the sequence. Like I said before, much of the visuals of the movie are extremely well done and give the movie a vintage '80s feel I couldn't help but like.
Now this is coming from a guy who's reviewed countless animated movie, but I think it's safe to say that young kids could still get a kick out of this movie. It's got everything the modern animated flicks have, but without the crass marketing. And the sidekicks aren't half as tiresome or irritating, with the only ones being a glow worm voiced by Don Knotts and a bee named Grumblebee. Some sections of the film may seem like filler, like the scene involving a toad and a city of insects which lasts a bit too long, but other than that I give Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night an enthusiastic recommendation. 3/4 stars