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Classical Critiques: Disney's Pinocchio
Summary (May Contain Spoilers)
Disney's Pinocchio is most noteworthy in the Disney animated canon for having their iconic "When You Wish Upon a Star" song, which they used to sell countless theme park tickets.
Pinocchio is the tale of a little puppet who is carved out of wood by a somewhat eccentric old bachelor, Gepetto, who talks to his cat and fish and makes toys, music boxes, and clocks as a pitiful compensation for his abysmal loneliness. Jiminy Cricket is one of many anthropomorphic animals walking around this animated world, so no one thinks it weird that a cricket with clothes on wanders in off the street and helps himself to a little warmth by the fire.
To the surprise of everyone that night, Gepetto's wish on a star that Pinocchio the puppet could become a real boy summons a magical fairy with sparkly boobs who can make him come to life. However, to be fully a real boy, he has to become a good boy. This means going to school and when in trouble, listening to his designated conscience, Jiminy Cricket.
Things go bad immediately on the way to school the next day, however, when a fox and a cat trick Pinocchio into going away to be an "actor", performing a musical number in a traveling puppet show put on by racially insensitive gypsy caricature, Stromboli.
When he makes a lot of money from the show, Pinocchio is originally stoked, thinking he's going to be a star actor. However, Stromboli is as it turns out, a bit greedy, temperamental, and not really that nice. When he locks Pinocchio in a cage, Pinocchio realizes that running away to be an actor instead of going to school might have been a bad choice.
When he gets a bail out from his alien fairy lady friend, he learns a lesson and... quickly forgets it. Not a few seconds go by before Pinocchio has been bamboozled again, by the same fox and cat, and walks off to be part of their next scheme for him. They're even singing the same tune as they send him off to the creepy man they plan to sell him to.
So he goes to Pleasure Island, a mysterious carnival where everything is free and every sin a boy can think of is possible, including drinking, vandalizing, fighting, breaking stuff, smoking (which somehow makes Pinocchio feel drunk), and the heinous act of playing billiards. Ew... creepy!
So anyway, the idea is that the boys are lured into this place and then turned into donkeys. In a nightmarish scene, Jiminy Cricket catches a glimpse of the madness: horrified, crying boys being transformed, stripped of their clothing, and shipped off in crates to work at various venues, including one crate labeled "Salt Mines". Though Pinocchio escapes with Jiminy and never fully transforms (he's left with just an adorable set of donkey ears and a donkey tail), we never see what happens to his unlucky friend, and the other boys never get rescued. Think of that when you're going to sleep tonight.
So basically, Pinocchio escapes from literally making an ass of himself when he comes home to find that Gepetto, and his fish and kitty are gone. So, he has to rescue them from the belly of a whale. Old people, am I right?
So, after a bit of oceanic adventure, they think Pinocchio is dead, but he comes back to life. Since he was unselfish in wanting to rescue his father from the belly of the whale, he becomes redeemed and is allowed to turn into a real boy. Everyone celebrates. We're just hoping he's not stupid enough to fall for Mr. Foxy's tricks a third time.
So, part of me wondered if being "real" is worth it, I mean, basically as a puppet he was more or less immortal and invulnerable. I guess the problem was that he could never grow up or experience adulthood. Therein lies a major theme for this work; development of a child's maturity and moral sense.
There is also not-so-subtle religious imagery, but without an explicit reference to Christianity. Gepetto's "prayer" and faith in miracles gives him the son he wanted and never had (for reasons that are unexplained), Pinocchio's "hero's journey" is all about overcoming the temptation of the "easy life", when choosing self-sacrifice and family is what redeems him in the end and gives him what he had been truly wanting all along. There's also the parallel between being Gepetto being inside a whale and the story of Jonah and the whale from the Bible. In both stories, the hero starts out "bad" because they're reluctant to do what God or destiny is calling them to do, but through their trial and hardship inside the whale, they become almost reborn with a new life and learn true success through hard work and doing what God, or the blue sparkly-tits fairy, says they should do.
The movie is not subtle in telling kids (an reminding parents) about the movie-makers' ideal of morality; follow one's conscience, avoid bad things, do not lie, and avoid the temptations of easy success when hard work is the only way to really find happiness.
It also seems to say that morality is not something that can just be explained in words to kids; you have to show them, and they have to learn from experiences and mistakes. I think it's important in our overly hover-parent world that sometimes, parents do have to back off and let kids trip up sometimes on their own, so they learn what not to do next time and they get wiser. Sometimes, making mistakes is the only way to learn.
Yeah, sometimes this movie is a little weird, but I found it enjoyable and entertaining enough that I'd give it a solid B. It makes you care about Pinocchio's struggles and he is a likeable and interesting character. It's fun to see the world as a brand new but sometimes scary place, as if you, through Pinocchio's innocent eyes, are yourself as a viewer able to return to the innocence of childhood. And it shows off Disney's prowess at film-making that they're able to capture that innocence and write such a realistic child (no pun intended).
Also, for some reason, I really enjoyed the cute side gags involving Cleo (the fish), Figaro (the kitty), and Jiminy Cricket.