Combustible Celluloid
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With: (voices) Dickie Jones, Cliff Edwards, Mel Blanc, Don Brodie, Walter Catlett, Marion Darlington, Frankie Darro, Charles Judels, Jack Mercer, Patricia Page, Christian Rub, Evelyn Venable
Written by: Ted Sears, Otto Englander, Webb Smith, William Cottrell, Joseph Sabo, Erdman Penner, Aurelius Battaglia, based on a story by Carlo Collodi
Directed by: Hamilton Luske, Ben Sharpsteen
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 88
Date: 02/07/1940

Pinocchio (1940)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Wishing Upon a Star

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Pinocchio was one of five early feature masterworks Walt Disney made at the height of his powers. It's still amazing to watch the sheer delight in movement and the sheer joy in decorating the frame with colors and shapes. As with some of the other early Disney stuff, this is much darker than most people remember or realize.

Old toymaker Gepetto (voiced by Christian Rub) makes a realistic marionette and wishes that it could be a real boy. The Blue Fairy appears and makes his wish come true, appointing Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Cliff Edwards) his "conscience." Almost immediately, Pinocchio (voiced by Dickie Jones) is duped by a pair of con artists and sold to an evil puppeteer. Escaping that, the little boy quickly allows himself to be shipped off to "Pleasure Island," where boys who indulge in smoking, candy and vandalism are turned into donkeys. Pinocchio escapes, only to be swallowed by a whale! All this in just 88 minutes.

Some of this imagery is truly frightening, foreshadowed by some of Gepetto's sinister clocks (a mother spanking a child, a drunk, and various images of guns and violence). The message, of course, is "Be a good boy," and the movie probably scared many a young child into doing just that.

This was the first appearance of the self-serving cat Figaro, whom Disney animators brought back years later as a foil in several brilliant Pluto cartoons. The legendary Mel Blanc reportedly provided voices for many of the film's silent characters, such as Figaro, Cleo the goldfish and Gideon, the bad guy's sidekick. The film won two Oscars, for Score and Song. Somehow, Disney also managed to release the legendary Fantasia later the same year.

For the movie's 70th anniversary (which actually happens next year), Disney has released a three-disc set. The first two-discs are Blu-Ray, so if -- like me -- you don't have your Blu-Ray setup yet, you'd better get a move on! The third disc is a plain old DVD with a beautiful digital transfer and some bonus features. There's a new audio mix of the soundtrack, or a restored version of the original mono mix.

In 2017, Disney issued a new "Signature" edition, which includes many of the same extras, a few new featurettes, and an optional digital copy; it also comes with a DVD. Quality is the same, which is superb.

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