Jiminy Cricket: A conscience is that still small voice that people won’t listen to. That’s just the trouble with the world today…
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
Much like Disney’s first film, its second was also very driven by its emotion. However, unlike Snow White, Pinocchio was not based on a fairy tale but rather a very dark book. And in many ways, the movie is quite dark even by today’s standards. Pinocchio utilizes both light-heartedness and darkness thus forming it as the bedrock of both those aspects being utilized in future Disney movies.
The story is that a woodworker named Geppetto creates a wooden puppet boy named Pinocchio and wishes upon a star for him to come to life. Thus a Blue Fairy visits the workshop and grants his wish although Pinocchio still remains a puppet. A cricket known as Jiminy Cricket is assigned to be his conscience and the Blue Fairy tells him that if he can prove himself to be brave, truthful, and unselfish he will become a real boy. In his efforts to prove himself Pinocchio comes across several crooked characters and learns the lessons he is supposed to learn along the way.
Perhaps the most memorable parts are the visuals the movie utilizes to convey the lessons such as having Pinocchio’s nose grow longer when he lies and the boys turning into donkeys for misbehaving. They are so strange that the imagery is seared into your mind forever. Even those who have not seen this movie can associate those images with this movie.
The dark imagery in this movie is particularly upped in this movie in comparison to Snow White. Unlike Snow White where even when the movie went into dark or scary territory everything turned out happy in the end, not everything turns out happily here. You have the scene where Honest John and Gideon to join Stromboli’s convince Pinocchio to join the puppet show where he eventually winds up locked by Stromboli in a birdcage and is threatened to be chopped into firewood upon outgrowing his use to make Stromboli money. While the Blue Fairy saves him here it is still quite a horrifying scene in just Stromboli describing his intents alone.
In many ways, Stromboli can be seen as an opposite to Geppetto. Whereas Geppetto put his heart and soul into creating Pinocchio as if he were real Stromboli viewed him as merely a puppet for earning him money and was intent on burning him when he outlived his usefulness.
There’s also a Coachman at a place called Pleasure Island (which contrary to its name is anything but pleasurable). Despite having no rules or authority to enforce their activities such as gambling, smoking, getting drunk, and vandalism the misbehaving boys are transformed into donkeys and the Coachman sells them into slave labor. Not only does the Coachman not get defeated but also the boys are still presumably donkeys at the end of it all some unable to even talk and are still sold into slavery. And we don’t even know what becomes of the donkeys who can talk. For a kids’ film, both back then and even now this is pretty scary territory.
The animation for Disney’s second film and for 1940 is impressive. Just the movements of characters like Stromboli or the donkey transformation can strike fear or any other emotion through movement alone.
Pinocchio is a very likable character and despite being a puppet has the heart of a real boy. Like most kids, he is very naïve, gullible, and can give into temptation. This makes him very relatable. And to his credit, he does learn his lesson and tries to be better.
Jiminy Cricket is also a very likable character, particularly for a conscience. He could easily have been written as a completely over-preachy and stick in the mud but the friendship he has with Pinocchio is genuine and has a great sense of development. And despite being very wisecracking he does have a great sense of humility.
Geppetto is out there as one of the more underrated characters in both the film and through Disney. He’s a very loving and nurturing father and even though his son is a puppet he treats Pinocchio as his own son braving sea storms and even the whale Monstro in order to find him. The creations in his workshop particularly show him to have the heart of a child. It honestly generates some fascination as to what kind of prospects for a family he had or if he had any at all.
The songs particularly stand out as well. I’ve Got no Strings is a very cute song, Give a Little Whistle is very catchy, and When you Wish upon a star is the most iconic practically becoming Disney’s trademark song.
Pinocchio has a great story, solid characters, and overall established precedents for light-heartedness and darkness in all of Disney’s future films. Its ability to juxtapose both horrors of reality and whimsy of fantasy truly make us believe that happily ever after can exist.