Monday, February 14, 2011

Review: Pinocchio, or Let's Ignore Unpleasantries

After the success of Snow White, Disney set to adapt another fairy tale as an animated feature. This time, instead of choosing a traditional Grimm fairy tale, he chose The Adventures of Pinocchio by Italian children's author Carlo Collodi. What we get is a fairly compressed and, actually, slightly less terrifying version of the original story. Just's less terrifying than the original. Let me give you just a small taste:

In the original version, Pinocchio has Geppetto arrested for child abuse, kills the talking cricket which lived in Geppetto's house, accidentally burns his feet off, narrowly escapes becoming firewood for a puppeteer, bites a cat's hand off, and gets strung up and hung from a branch.

He. bites. off. a. cat's. hand.

He's Right; they totally are.

Also, he kills the talking cricket.

That would have made for a very different, much darker film. Like, so dark, David Fincher would be all like, "Whoa, that's twisted and dark."

So, my original review about how terribly dark this film is can now be thrown out the window.

Basically, the main difference between the source material and the film is Pinocchio himself. Originally, he is kind of a half-crazed wooden Dennis the Menace, but in the Disney film he is given a kind of innocent naivety. Also, he doesn't bite off anybody's hand or kill Jiminy Cricket.

But we can't ignore the darkness in this film; when he is led astray by Honest John and Gideon, the puppeteer who takes him on basically enslaves him. It's only with the help of Jiminy and the Blue Fairy that he's able to escape. And then we get Pleasure Island.

Wow, Pleasure Island. Let me tell you something about that part of the film. First off, the Coachman tells Honest John and Gideon to convince boys to go to Pleasure Island, and they shudder. Think of that; Honest John and Gideon, who are con men willing to sell Pinocchio into slavery, shudder at the thought of this place called Pleasure Island. The conversation goes like this:

The Coachman: I'm collecting stupid little boys.

Honest John: Stupid little boys?

The Coachman: You know, the disobedient ones who play hooky from school.

Honest John: Ohh!

The Coachman: And you see...
[Whispers in Honest John's ear; Gideon puts his ear to Honest John's other ear so he can listen as well]

The Coachman: And I takes 'em to Pleasure Island.

Honest John: [nods in agreement] Ah, Pleasure Island.
[suddenly shocked]

Honest John: Pleasure Island? But the law! Suppose they...

The Coachman: No, no. There is no risk. They never come back... as BOYS!
[leans in close to camera and smiles wickedly]

I'm sorry, but...a creepy old man taking a bunch of boys to "Pleasure Island" and they "never come boys!" is really really terrifying. I was watching it and, keeping a fresh perspective in mind, I thought, "Ew, this guy is a real creeper." It feels like Pleasure Island is one whole metaphor for something else entirely.

So after all the boys get turned into donkeys (except for Pinocchio, who escapes with only ears and a tail), he and Jiminy wander back to Geppetto's house. Now, it seems like it's only been a day, at most, since Pinocchio went missing, but the house is shuttered and abandoned and looks like it's been so for some time. I guess we're dealing with compression of the narrative, but it really does seem like it has been less than a day or so since the film even started. But Geppetto is all ready out looking for Pinocchio, and he took his cat and the fish that is madly in love with the cat, and they've all been swallowed by a giant whale named Monstro. Pinocchio and Jiminy head out to sea, get swallowed by Monstro, and rescue Geppetto. Pinocchio sort of dies in the process, but the Blue Fairy shows up to turn him for real into a real boy. And they all live happily ever after.

At the core, this is a quest story; it's basically about Pinocchio earning his conscience (or his soul, I guess). He faces hardships and obstacles and temptations and, through the ultimate sacrifice, comes out ahead. The only problem with this sacrifice I see comes from the fact that Pinocchio didn't really change that much. He's not mischievous, as Pinocchio is in the original story, he's just easily manipulated. Manipulated into slavery, manipulated into a trip to Pleasure Island. So when he goes out in search of Geppetto he's not doing it due to any change of heart. We never get the sense that he wouldn't do anything for Geppetto, so we're not surprised by his bravery. We're only surprised by his sacrifice because this is a children's movie and he is the titular character (though, in the last Disney film we saw, the titular character appeared dead for a while as well, which is another theme we'll see in many of these features). We know that Geppetto is searching for Pinocchio because Geppetto loves him, and we know Pinocchio feels the same way.

In the original, Pinocchio has to learn humility, sympathy, empathy, responsibility, friendship, and so on and so forth before becoming a real boy. The only lesson Disney's Pinocchio learns is that he shouldn't lie, otherwise his nose could poke somebody's eye out. The problem is that though he does prove he's unselfish, brave and truthful by the end of the movie, we never see him being selfish or cowardly. There's nothing at stake as far as his character goes.

I'm not saying it doesn't have its strong points. Like Snow White, Pinocchio is visually stunning and parts of it are laugh-out-loud funny. For instance, when Honest John and Gideon are tricking Pinocchio into the trip to Pleasure Island, Honest John gives him a thorough "examination" while whipping him around, with Gideon taking notes in the background. Gideon's notes are no more than scribbles, but Honest John consults them and convinces a very dizzy and disheveled Pinocchio that he has an allergy. It's a funny bit of writing with good visuals. And Monstro, the whale, is one of the more terrifying monsters of any animated film, ever. But the story is still lacking in good character development. It just falls flat when I apply my film-class-addled powers of examination.

And I can't leave off without saying how truly scary it is that though our main characters get to live happily ever after, all those boys on Pleasure Island got turned into donkeys and never got to go home. In fact, in the original story, Pinocchio ends up working on a farm and has to tend to a dying Donkey, who turns out to be his best friend from his days on Pleasure Island. Yikes. If they had kept that part in the film, guaranteed that it would have been even less of a financial success than it was. Though, to be fair, the reason this film's original box-office earnings did not match up to Snow White is because of the outbreak of WWII, which limited its international release by quite a few years. Don't worry, though; Disney has more than made up for this lack of income over the multiple home video releases in the last thirty years.

Well, that's it for now. Next time, I get to review Fantasia, which is going to be very challenging because I won't get to pad it out with a plot summary. Should be fun!

Once again, I consulted the Wikipedia Page for information on this film, and also about the original novel. Michael Scott says since anybody can edit Wikipedia, you know it's accurate. And I trust that man completely.

1 comment:

Molly said...

I'm pretty sure I made a comment on this post, but it's not here. I'm so freaked out by Pinocchio now, I may never be able to watch it again.

The weird word I have to type in to get this comment posted is 'palin'.

how weird is that?