the movie I can never spell
Hi there and welcome back to “Oof! Right in the Childhood” I’m Jen, and this is a podcast where I watch the Disney animated feature films in the order in which they were released, and react to them from a modern standpoint. Most of these movies, I haven’t watched in over a decade, so I get to watch them with fresh eyes, which often leads to realization that maybe my Disney-steeped childhood had some problematic elements. Yeah, maybe.
Today, I’m going to talk about Pinocchio from 1940 a.k.a. the movie I can never spell. If you’re curious, there is 1 n and two c’s, but I always get them backwards. Before we go too far into this, I would like to mention that this film uses a racist slur toward the Romani people. My reaction to the film has an acknowledgement of said slur. I also want to say, don’t call people that. It’s not okay. The purpose of this podcast is not to educate you on why, but maybe give it a Google when you’re done?
But first, let’s talk about this film and how it came to be.
The story of Pinocchio was written by a Tuscan man named Carlo Collodi in 1883. And when you watch the movie, you can tell that that’s when it’s set.
After Snow White was released to great box office success, Disney had planned to release a wildlife film called Bambi. However, they hadn’t quite figured out how to draw the animals right, so when one of the animators showed Walt a translation of The Adventures of Pinocchio, to quote the animator, Walt was “busting his guts with enthusiasm” to animate the little wooden puppet.
However, there was a small problem. The original book has Pinocchio as inhuman and cruel. In short, he’s a jerk. Disney didn’t want to release a movie with a jerk as its star. They wanted their puppet to be loveable. They also had some disagreement with how puppet-like he should appear. About half the animators thought he look exactly like a puppet while others wanted him to look like a boy with wooden joints.
There was a fight. One of the “human” proponents showed Walt a test animation of his vision, and Walt determined that they would make Pinocchio more human than puppet.
They also added a new character to the film — Jiminy Cricket. Jiminy wasn’t in the original book, but Walt felt that Pinocchio was too gullible without some other outside force to help him.
The movie cost $2.3 million to produce, which by today’s standards is about $42.1 million. And people loved it. The problem was, it was released just as World War 2 was cutting off international markets. So the film only made about one and a half million dollars by the end of 1940. They re-released the film in 1945, and eventually brought in $3.2 million worldwide, but the movie still lost about $90,000 or $1.3 million when adjusted for inflation.
But the thing is, Pinocchio is still considered one of the greatest movies of all time. It’s one of those movies that has a 100% rating on Rotten tomatoes. And as Disney re-released the movie after the War, this began to be reflected in its finances. By 1973, Pinocchio had made $13 million in just U.S. and Canadian box offices. That’s $75.4 million dollars today. It’s current lifetime gross is over $85 million, which, just like Snow White, we can’t adjust for inflation because all the sums are from different eras.
It also consistently makes the lists of best animated movies of all times. So, though there are definitely some problematic elements, it is beautifully animated, and superbly well done.
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All of the following is commentary on the film as I see it now, in 2020. My views are not that of the Disney company.
The movie starts right off the bat with a 4th wall break from Jiminy Cricket. You can really see the improvement in animation from Snow White to this. There's a lot less jittering of lines.
Jiminy is homeless and finds a home to shelter in. He proceeds to react to all the statues on the shelves like they're real people, it’s just hilarious.
Gepetto is making a new wooden puppet, and his cat Figaro is super jealous. As a current human servant to two cats, this is the most truthfully cat thing I’ve ever seen.
They go to bed, and Gepetto requires Figaro to open the window. I’m pretty sure that the human, Geppetto, is so much more well-equipped to do this, so why?
Gepetto wishes on a star that Pinocchio would come to life and then goes to sleep.
The Blue Fairy comes down and gives Pinocchio life, but he needs a conscience! Enter Jiminy! Why a cricket for a conscience? I have no idea.
Jiminy tells Pinocchio to “Give a little whistle” if he needs his conscience. Which makes two movies in a row with songs about whistling. That's an interesting theme. But here’s the thing, if Pinocchio doesn’t have a conscience, how does he know if something needs a conscience? I mean, theoretically, he could murder someone and just not know that’s wrong.
As they sing and dance, they wake up Gepetto. He has a flintlock under his pillow which I never noticed, and he’s pretty bad at gun safety.
Can. You. Imagine. Waking up in the middle of the dang night to discover your puppet came to life? They've literally made horror movies about this.
Geppetto reacts appropriately by freaking the heck out. As Pinocchio explains all this, Figaro gets water dumped on him and then gets his petting session cut short. I always felt like he got a raw deal throughout the movie.
As I rewatched this movie, I started to wonder things about "which came first" with traditions in this movie. Did kiddos bring apples to their teachers before 1940, or was that an idea that the movie gave them? Did the "Star light, Star bright, first star I see tonight..." rhyme come from the movie or tradition? Someone let me know. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
There's a walking, talking, cigar smoking fox with a human-sized cat and no one seems to notice in this town full of humans. Also, they immediately call someone named Stromboli a slur that begins with /G/. At the time this was created (and the time it’s set in), that was just a word. It doesn’t make it right, but speaking as someone who has been working on educating herself, I only learnt that this was offensive about 5 years ago.
So, okay, apart from racist slurs, there's literally 400,000% more story in the first half of this film than in the whole of Snow White.
The Fox proceeds to spell Pinocchio as easily as I do.The captions told me that his name is Honest John. Which seemed exactly right. Once his name is said, Jiminy reacts to him being named "Honest John" with exactly as much sarcasm as I do.
One scene I would love to see added to the movie is the conversation between Stromboli and “Honest John.” That would have been really interesting to hear Honest John explain, "No, really, he's wooden, but he’s alive!”
As we lead into “I’ve got no strings,” Stromboli speaks Italian. I don’t, and there are no captions for me to try to translate. I'd love to know what Stromboli says in these scenes.
Pinocchio sings this amazingly fun song about how he has no strings, but he’s still super clumsy. I suppose that’s what happens when you’ve only walked for a few hours. Then we move on to weirdly sexualized puppets. “I’d bust my strings for you” and “I’d cut my strings for you,” and other amazing lyrics come out of this song. And Jiminy gets a little creepy about the culturally stereotyped lady puppets. So, what’s a 1940s cartoon without some weird sexualization and off the cuff racism? Oof! Right in the childhood.
Jiminy walks off saying, "What does an actor want with a conscience anyway?" And the irony of an actor being paid to say that is not lost on me.
Gepetto is worried about where Pinocchio is, as he should be. He’s prepared a fish for Figaro and there’s a piece of cake hanging down into Cleo’s bowl. That feels like it’s both impossible and it’s not good for her health.
Stromboli is heading to Constantinople. And now (thanks to Google), I know that Istanbul only came to be in 1930. And it’s recent enough to this movie that it makes sense that they'd use the old name. And given that the story is set in the 1880’s that also makes sense.
Stromboli locks Pinocchio in a cage, and the Blue Fairy comes to save him. But he lies off his butt about how he got here. And we get the most well known thing about Pinocchio — his nose grows when he lies. But the thing is, that only happens once during the movie, and it seems so weird that that’s the thing we identify with Pinocchio above all else.
Meanwhile, Honest John is staying at Red Lobster! Fun facts! I wonder if they have cheddar bay biscuits. He’s bragging about tricking Pinocchio for practically no money. He’s so proud of being a jerk. The coachman wants him to collect stupid little boys. I really like how this movie goes out of drop that virtue statement of “stupid boys play hooky from school and are dishonest.” Nice semi subliminal lesson there, Disney.
There’s a law against taking people to Pleasure Island, but the coachman says there’s no risk because they never come back. But — that’s not how that works. That feels like a reason that there’s a lot of risk.
Honest John sees Pinocchio on his way back to town and proceeds to diagnose him with the same technical language as Grey’s Anatomy. What’s the cure? Pleasure Island. Because, of course it is. They stuff a whole bunch of boys into a coach and a boat and now we're on Pleasure Island. There's a lot going on here. I’m going to to through some gems:
“Let’s go poke someone in the nose for the fun of it.”
Tobacco Row has racist depictions of Native Americans handing out, “Cigars, cigarettes, and chewing tobacco.”
There’s a model home is “open for destruction.” So the kids can do whatever they like to this beautiful mansion.
Lampy strikes a match on the Mona Lisa.
And there are shadowy minions locking them in. I need information on the shadowy minions.
The Coachman says jackass because this was the days when rated G movies could say this. Jiminy sees right through all of this. There are suddenly not very many boys. Just Lampy and Pinocchio. Is the donkey transmutation hurried by their badness? If so, does that mean Lampy is the best of them? What were these other boys like?
Pinocchio is smoking, but — he doesn’t have lungs? And Lampy makes fun of him for smoking like his grandmother and that’s an insult for you. Again we have a virtue lesson of not smoking a cigar too quickly? And playing pool is bad too.
Does Pinocchio turn into a wooden donkey? If not, how does this magical island's transmutation properties work? Also, how does this island’s transmutation properties work, even if he does turn into a flesh and bone donkey. This whole thing feels really useful, under the right circumstances.
Apparently, as soon as you leave the island, the transformation stops. So Pinocchio just has a tail and ears. Because that makes sense.
Gepetto is missing. After telling him she would not help him any more, the Blue Fairy immediately provides more help. He was swallowed by a whale at the bottom of the sea. And — none of those things make sense.
Jiminy tries to talk Pinocchio out of jumping into the ocean, but at the same time he encourages it. “I’ve heard Monstro is terrible, he’ll swallow whole ships! Tie your tail good and tight right now. He’s mean!”
The scene with Pinocchio swimming down to find Gepetto was the test animation that convinced Walt to make him more human-like, by the sway.
As someone has a biology degree, it’s really hard to ignore all the medical impossibilities of a whole ship in the belly of the whale, but we’ll move on from that. They light the boat on fire to make Monstro sneeze them out. Okay sure. That’s a thing.
Gepetto is such a pessimist. What were you going to do, just wait to become ambergris? Was that your move? I just - I just don’t know what he was planning to do.
And Monstro is M A D mad. How dare you make me sneeze and escape from my stomach where I wasn’t getting any nutritional benefit from you anyway? They escape, but he destroys their raft. And he’s still mad. Pinocchio won’t leave his dad for whale bait, and he’s actually pretty smart to see a cave where they can escape. Monstro’s going to have a headache tomorrow.
Cleo washes up in her bowl, fully intact, with water in it. How do goldfish do in saltwater? I’m guessing not well
Where Snow White had virtually no story in 1 hr 28 minutes, this sucker is the same length, but feels like it's over 2 hours, just because of the volume of story.
Gepetto wakes to find Pinocchio is face down in the water, which is fine because again, he does not have lungs, but Gepetto is convinced he’s dead. To quote South Park, “What has no life cannot die.”
Geppetto doesn't listen ever. He brings Pinocchio home, and he’s crying and Pinocchio says “Why are you crying?”
"Because you're dead"
"No I'm not."
"Yes you are. You're dead, dead, dead."
He's gonna be a great dad.
They dance! Jiminy gets a conscience badge! He says it’s solid gold, but it’s 18 karat and dear Jiminy, 18k is not solid gold.
The End. And the beginning of "When you wish upon a star" being the underlying Disney theme.
Something I’d never seen is the alternative ending. In this ending, Pinocchio crawls out of the water and finds his father on the beach, apparently dead. He sobs on his father’s chest while crying the Blue Fairy makes him a real boy. Gepetto wakes to find Pinocchio alive and real and they are thrilled, and I guess that was the quick ending.
There’s also this great story of Pinocchio’s grandfather who was a pine tree and the monarch of the forest? That’s um...does he compete with Bambi’s father? Or how does that work? And also, wouldn’t all trees be his children, grandchildren, etc? How is it determined?
There’s actually nothing more to this story. It’s pretty boring. His grandfather was a great tree. The end.
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