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Release Year: 1940
Genre: Animation, Family, Fantasy
Before Chuckie, before Terminator, and before Ex Machina, there was one film that explored the concept of intimate objects gaining sentience.
That film? Pinocchio.
Okay, so Pinocchio doesn't feature any murder sprees, insane bar fights, or inexplicable '70s dance numbers, but that doesn't mean you should sell it short.
After all, in many ways Pinocchio is just as upsetting as Chucky—for example, boys turn into donkeys, a la Jeff Goldblum in The Fly—but it's also much, much, much more heartwarming.
Most of us know the story by heart. Geppetto is a kindly old woodworker who desperately wishes that his prized puppet Pinocchio would become a real boy. And guess what—he does. Pinocchio struggles to adapt to the real world, but thanks to the help of his cricket friend Jiminy and the love of Geppetto, he manages to get on the right path and earn his humanity.
This simple story provided the genius animators at Disney with a limitless canvas upon which to work. Pinocchio was only the second animated feature film made by the company (and one of the first dozen of all time), so these dudes were basically writing the textbook on animation while they worked. To that end, they created many innovative techniques for Pinocchio that made it more immersive than any previous animated film.
In fact, the New York Times said this when Pinocchio hit cinemas in 1940:
It still is the best thing Mr. Disney has done and therefore the best cartoon ever made. (Source)
Dang. That's some high praise.
But here's Pinocchio's dirty little secret: it was a flop at the box office. Although the film would go on to win Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song, early audiences were less than enthused. This was especially rough because it came hot off the blockbuster success of Snow White just six years prior.
Over time, however, Pinocchio began earning a legit critical reputation. Whether you're examining its historical significance, its influence on the medium of animation, or its use of mythological tropes to convey modern values, Pinocchio has a lot more going on under the hood than it seems at first glance.
And you want to know how you know that we're telling the truth? Our nose is still the same length. That's science, folks.
You know all the Pinocchio jokes in the book. You still remember all the lyrics to "When You Wish Upon A Star"…even though the last time you sang it you were eight years old. You could sketch Jiminy Cricket from memory.
And you've never even seen Pinocchio.
Disney's second animated feature film shines as brightly in our collective imagination as the Blue Fairy's magic wand. But, surprisingly, its enduring fame isn't the only reason that this movie is something you should care about.
Instead, it's because this movie gives us a pretty magnificent lesson about growing up and becoming a real, good (and real good) person.
No, we're not talking about Pinocchio. We're talking about Jiminy Cricket. Because although the story centers on Pinocchio's transformation from literal blockhead to flesh-and-blood boy…the real character development happens within the heart and mind of an insect.
Sure—for youngsters, it's all about Pinocchio. He's a hugely relatable character. We've all been naive at some point in our lives and we've all definitely made some bad decisions because we've been crazy-innocent.
For anyone older than ten, however, the real story is Jiminy's. Unlike Pinocchio, Jiminy acts worldly and cynical, initially making him seem a lot more grown-up than Lil' P. But Jiminy screws up as much—if not more—than his puppet buddy.
After all, he fails to take his job as Pinocchio's conscience seriously…and that's what lands Pinocchio in trouble. Again and again. And again.
The real trouble in life doesn't stem from being totally naïve as much as it comes from:
Ugh. That sounds like our experience working our first summer job. Or our first time working on a group project. Or, or, or…
Yeah. We've screwed up a lot. After all, we're only human—we're learning as we go along. And weirdly, in this film, the guy who exhibits the most human (and humanly fallible) traits is a dang cricket. But we're betting that once Pinocchio settles into his new human form (and passes the fifth grade), he'll start messing up in similar ways.
Luckily for him, he'll have Jiminy as his guide…because this little bug has become way older and way, way wiser during the course of this movie.
The original serialized run of The Adventures of Pinocchio ended with Pinocchio getting executed. For real. That was it—no magic spells, no nothing. Readers were so incensed by this that author Carlo Collodi changed the ending when the story was finally compiled in book form in 1883. (Source)
Speaking of the source material, good old Jiminy did have an appearance of sorts in the original The Adventures of Pinocchio—he was the talking cricket Pinocchio brutally murdered in chapter four. Ouch. (Source)
Although this is Jiminy Cricket's film debut, his name was actually used as an expression of surprise in Disney's first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. (Source)
Although legendary voice actor Mel Blanc recorded several speaking lines for Gideon in the film, producers decided to cut his dialogue down to just a few laughs and hiccups. (Source)
Pinocchio was the first ever animated film to win an Oscar in a category in which it was competing with live action films. Nailed it. (Source)
It's the online home of the Walt Disney Company, y'all—the place where dreams come true.
Puppetry in Practice
Want to learn how to make your own puppet in the hopes that it comes to life? This is a good place to start.
Carlo Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio
Collodi's original telling of Pinocchio's story is a lot more brutal than the one we've just watched.
The Adventures of Pinocchio (1996)
There are too many adaptations of Pinocchio to count, but this one's notable because it hews closer to the original story than the Disney version.
The Original Pinocchio
This hilarious article from Slate comments on Pinocchio's treatment in the original book, as well as analyzing how this differs from the film version.
The New York Times' 1940 Review of Pinocchio
Take a trip in a time machine and see what film critics thought about Pinocchio when it was released.
An Interview with Dickie Jones
This is a wonderful talk with the late, great Dickie Jones, who provided the voice for Pinocchio.
The Making of Pinocchio
This brief documentary gives some great insight into the innovative animation techniques used in the film.
Pinocchio's Original Trailer
We love old-school trailer voice-overs. This is one of the best.
Collodi's Subversive Pinocchio
This fascinating piece from NPR looks at the socio-economic and historical realities behind Carlo Collodi's original book.
In another piece from NPR, we learn the unwritten history of Disney's animation empire.
An Early Sketch of Jiminy Cricket
This production sketch shows us that Jiminy looked a whole lot more like a cricket when he was originally designed.
The Pinocchio Game Boy Game
We're including this for no other reason than that we love the original Game Boy. The '90s were a wonderful time.