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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Pinocchio

Starring: Christian Rub, Cliff Edwards
Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Rated: G
RunTime: 88 Minutes
Release Date: February 1940
Genres: Animation, Classic, Kids

*Also starring: Evelyn Venable, Walter Catlett

Review by Steve Rhodes
4 stars out of 4

After seeing the new live action Pinocchio movie, THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO to which I gave ***, we decided to watch the Disney original 1940 classic animated movie PINOCCHIO since it is the reference standard. Directors Hamilton Luske and Ben Sharpsteen's 1940 PINOCCHIO is wonderful - full of beauty and tragedy. The writers (Aurelius Battaglia, William Cottrell, Otto Englander, Erdman Penner, Joseph Sabo, Ted Sears, and Webb Smith using Carlo Collodi's book) fashion a morality tale that describes horrible results for any boy who strays from the straight and narrow.

The short version of the story is that a puppet maker named Geppeto (voice by Christian Rub) creates a puppet called Pinocchio (voice by Dick Jones). He wishes Pinocchio could come alive and his wish is granted by The Blue Fairy (voice by Evelyn Venable). The Blue Fairy assigns the role of Pinocchio's conscience to Jiminy Cricket (voice by Cliff Edwards). Pinocchio goes to work for the evil Stromboli (voice by Charles Judels) and generally gets into a lot of trouble in the show.

The moral lessons come fast and furious. The Blue Fairy tells Pinocchio, "Remember: Always let your conscience be your guide." This, of course, has a double meaning given that she has delegated that role to Jiminy Cricket. She promises Pinocchio that he can be a real boy and not just a live puppet if he is good. The carrot. He also finds that when he lies, his nose grows so long that leaves, flowers, bird's nests, and birds grow on it. The stick. She admonishes him that "a lie keeps growing and growing until it's as clear as the nose on your face."

Unlike the remake, the original is much darker and more frightening. Stromboli is extremely sinister. He calls Pinocchio his "little wooden gold mine" and throws him into a bird cage when he doesn't obey. If the thought of some diabolical man bend on locking them up doesn't scare little kids, not much will. The show has more insidious characters like Honest John. Overall, the movie is a panoply of the inherent horrors of childhood and much more so than the remake, the 1940 original does not pull any punches in illustrating the consequences of immorality.

The piece de resistance is Pleasure Island. There the boys get to smoke cigars, destroy model homes, play pool and drink beer. The consequences of this degeneracy are near fatal as Pinocchio soon learns. All and all, this is a troubling but extremely well crafted film. In typical stereotyping, notice how the quintessential bad kid, Lampwick (voice by Frankie Darro), has a Brooklyn accent. Reminds me of how movies, even today, stereotype people with Southern accents like mine as being poor and stupid.

There is so much more right with the movie that it is hard to know what all to include. Just the infectiously happy and uplifting voice of Jiminy Cricket is certainly worth a mention. The animators (lead by Shamus Culhane) use a simple style in the drawings. Most scenes have little detailing and yet, the colors of the warm browns remind us of the wooded nature of the protagonist and the warmth suggest that redemption is his for the taking.

The music (Leigh Harline, Paul Smith and Ned Washington) is soothing, dreamy, and nostalgic. The songs are all memorable and great. My favorites are "Give a little whistle," "When you wish upon a star," and "An actor's life for me."

I have only one major criticism of the film. The whole Monstro sequence runs way too long, especially the search for the whale. If they wanted to make the film longer, they could have added more in the front part. Finally, I must be honest. As much as I like the character of Pinocchio in this movie, I liked the character in the remake better. His movements are more interesting and the way he deals with some of the situations more imaginative. On whole, however, the remake is not near as good as the original. The main problem with the remake is that they downplay the morality issue which is the heart of the story.

PINOCCHIO runs 1:28. It is rated G, but little kids may be frightened by the caging, the whale, and many of the darker images. I always include Jeffrey's (age 7) mini-review in my review. I forget this on the remake, THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO. He loved it and gave it two thumbs up. For reasons, which he was not able to articulate, he liked it better than the original PINOCCHIO to which he gave only one thumbs up. Go figure. Personally, I give my strongest recommendation to PINOCCHIO and rate it a full ****.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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