Of all the early Disney animated features, I think this is the best. (I put Fantasia in a class by itself.) Oddly, at least from today’s perspective, it wasn’t a big success at the time. Some of that had to do with the War, which prevented an overseas release. But the reviews were mostly mixed. It took a while for Walt to recoup his $2,289,000 investment. With Fantasia’s lack of success immediately following, things were looking grim for Disney Studios for a while there. Today, of course, it is an acknowledged masterpiece, some say the best use of hand-drawn animation ever. It made even more use of the multi-plane camera than Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs did. That is a thing invented on the Disney lot by Ub Iwerks, a vertical arrangement of glass panes upon which scenery could be drawn from various distances and moved at different rates, so that things in the foreground went past the field of view faster than things in the background. The Disney multi-plane had seven levels, and they were able to achieve an amazing illusion of depth with it.
For most of the last half of the 20th Century, the Disney animated features were re-released theatrically every seven years, something no other studio was ever able to do, and which went a long ways toward keeping the studio in the black. It was pretty much a guaranteed audience. Thus, Pinocchio eventually brought in $84 million. Not bad for a little wooden head! Looking at the release dates, I figure I must have seen it in 1954. I recall it very well. It was at the Palace Theater in Corsicana, Texas. I was seven. And let me tell you, when Monstro the Whale started chasing Pinocchio, Gepetto, and Jiminy Cricket, I was scared! It’s the first time I recall being scared at the movies. I didn’t mind; I’m not the nightmare kind, things like that don’t haunt me or disturb my sleep. In fact, I enjoyed the hell out of it.
I’ve never read the book this movie was based on, but it should come as no surprise that Disney tinkered with it, a lot. And with good reason. I’ve read about the book, and it sounds just awful! Certainly not good material for children … and, of course, it was not written primarily for children. It was an allegory, and in the first version, Pinocchio is hanged! Collodi then added a sort of “Further adventures of,” and it became popular with both adults and children. Some of the changes were inconsequential, as turning the Giant Dogfish into Monstro the Whale. The Fox and the Cat were rogues in both versions. There was a puppet show, and a place like Pleasure Island where boys turned into donkeys (mules, actually). But Gepetto didn’t like children. He never asked for a little wooden boy, he was given a magic log that talked, and carved a boy out of that. And Pinocchio … he was a friggin’ juvenile delinquent! First thing he did when he came alive, he kicked Gepetto. He threw something at the talking cricket, and killed it! (The cricket’s ghost came back in later installments.) And the Blue Fairy had a much larger part to play than merely bringing him to life and saving his bacon when he was in a cage. None of this matters to me. I approve of all the changes they made. I just thought it was interesting.
We always look for odd names in the credits. The champ here is one T. Hee. I’d seen his name before, he did a lot of animation work from the ‘30s to the ‘60s. But you just gotta love the name, don’t you?