Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on March 16th, 2009
“When you wish upon a star. Makes no difference who you are. Anything your heart desires will come to you. If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme.
When you wish upon a star, as dreamers do… Like a bolt out of the blue, fate steps in and sees you through. When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.”
The song has become a standard. Every kid knows it. Walt Disney Studios has made it their theme song. You hear it each time you load up a Disney disc. If you have been fortunate enough to have visited Walt Disney World, you’ve heard it the entire day long. We know the song, but did you know where it originated from? It was back in 1940 and the release of Walt Disney’s, in fact, the world’s, second ever feature length animated film: Pinocchio. Now Disney brings us this timeless classic on high definition and Blu-ray. What a marvel this release is.
Pinocchio began life not as a boy or a puppet. He was born in the imagination of Italian writer, Carlo Collodi. The original story would not have appeared very much like Disney material. It was an incredibly dark tale with vicious happenings and characters. Even the puppet, Pinocchio himself, was much more a crude and unlikable boy. He was given to much darker mischief than we find in this movie. But leave it to our old Uncle Walt to bring out something in the story and character that would fit that Disney ideal. Suddenly the puppet, who would be a real boy, becomes an innocent blank slate of conscience, guided by faithful Jiminy Cricket, toward flesh and blood.
After the enormous success of Snow White, Walt Disney felt he had something to prove. He had just demonstrated that an audience would have the attention span to sit through a full length feature cartoon. He had more stories to tell, and he was convinced he had discovered just the medium to tell them. Bambi was originally scheduled to be that second film. Unfortunately for the little doe-eyed fawn, there were problems with the character designs, and Bambi wasn’t going to be ready. That’s when Walt took the puppet Pinocchio off of the shelf and gave him a life that even the Blue Fairy could not give. He set his crack animation staff to task, and Pinocchio came to life through the real life magic of animation. The film would not only create the definitive form for the Pinocchio character but would introduce us to Jiminy Cricket and the song, When You Wish Upon A Star. That song along with a wonderful score brought the film a much deserved Oscar for its music. Is it any wonder that generations since have grown up believing in magic?
Geppetto (Rub) is an old toymaker. He has a kind soul, and it shows in the wonderful toys that he makes, from music boxes to puppets. His latest creation, a puppet he names Pinocchio, is his pride and joy. How much like a real boy, he boasts. Before turning in for the night he wishes upon a star. His wish? That Pinocchio could be a flesh and blood real boy. That night as the gentle woodworker slumbers, The Blue Fairy arrives from her place in the stars. She brings Pinocchio to life. While he is alive, he is still made of wood. She puts the burden of truly fulfilling Geppetto’s wish on the shoulders of the newborn boy. If he can prove himself worthy, he will become a real boy. To help him upon his path she appoints the trusty cricket, Jiminy, as his conscience. Pinocchio accepts the terms. When Geppetto awakens, he discovers his wish, nearly fulfilled. Unfortunately, Pinocchio is naive and ignorant of the temptations of the world. On his way to school, he encounters the crafty fox, Honest John (Catlett). Honest John is astonished by the puppet who can move without the aid of strings. He knows that the puppeteer Stromboli (Judels) would pay a king’s ransom for such a thing. He sweet talks Pinocchio into accompanying him to become an “actor” instead of going to school. Before Jiminy knows what’s going on, Pinocchio is the prisoner of the evil Stromboli. Everybody gets a second chance, or so the Mike + The Mechanics song tells us. So it is with Pinocchio. The Blue Fairy comes to the rescue, and Pinocchio discovers that lies can become as plain as the nose on your face. Freed from Stromboli, Pinocchio once again encounters Honest John. This time the clever fox wants to sell him to The Coachman (Judels) who has evil plans of his own for all bad boys. Pinocchio again finds himself in a jam. Temptation is a hard lesson for the puppet and the other boys lured to Pleasure Island where you can do whatever you want. So far Pinocchio is 0-2 in the proving himself department. But, when Geppetto is swallowed by a monstrous whale, he has one more chance to come through.
Everything about this film is nearly perfect. The animation is as impressive and smooth as anything done in recent years. The visuals are absolutely stunning in every detail. Remember that this was 1940, and animation was just breaking out of its own infancy. The special effects are dazzling and Walt Disney certainly proved that Snow White was no fluke. The famed “Nine Old Men” of Disney animation fame were the “Nine Young Men” at that time. They were all just learning the tricks to a trade that would deliver over 50 years of classic Disney creations to our collective childhoods. The film was over 20 years old before I was even born; still, it was a mainstay of my childhood as it continues to be today. Ask any child about Pinocchio, and they’ll tell you something about the film, whether it’s the nose growth spurts brought about by lies or the donkey transformations of the boys at Pleasure Island. It doesn’t matter which detail sticks with them, only that something definitely survives in their fresh memories. The film has become almost a cultural memory that we appear to be already aware of at birth. If that isn’t magic, then I don’t know what is.
Finally, it was the carefully selected voice cast that marks the final ingredient in this masterpiece. Dickie Jones would provide the voice of the title character. Unlike today, where famous names deliver the younger voices, Walt went with an actual young boy. The kid was a hard worker. Believe it or not, but, between 1934 and 1940 when he did Pinocchio, the child actor had appeared in nearly 60 films. The boy was able to completely capture the innocence that was Pinocchio, at least in Walt’s version of the story. You can’t talk about this movie without giving incredible props to Cliff Edwards, who provided both the speaking and singing voice to Jiminy Cricket. Remember that this is really Jiminy’s story. We begin and end the tale with him, and it’s told mostly through his own narration. Edwards was a noted musician at the time. He was famous for singing and playing a ukulele. From the opening moments of When You Wish Upon A Star, Edwards brings you into this make believe world completely and inescapably. In the late 60’s and early 70’s there was no real home video. The fact that this film was still appearing at the box office for limited runs 20 and 30 years later says more than anything I can tell you here for the film.
Pinocchio is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1. On the surface it might be hard for you to accept a high definition release in full frame. Disney has anticipated your reluctance. Some of you don’t like the black bars on the sides. Some of you have monitors that are susceptible to screen burn, so you don’t like having them there. You now have something called Disney View, which fills that space with paintings that perfectly frame the center action. I thought they would be distracting, and in a couple of rare occasions they were. Once or twice center movement pointed out the obviously stationary side panels. Most of the time they were invisible as I watched the film. Once in a while they actually enhanced the experience. Some reviewers might wish to cast insult upon you for using them. I say use them, if you wish. I did. As for the picture itself: You’re going to be amazed at the quality of this 70 year old image. It’s presented in full 1080p through a solid AVC/MPEG-4 codec. I was astonished at the depth and brilliance of this picture. Colors are simply outstanding and bright. Detail is at a level I still find hard to believe when you consider the age, because you don’t have to consider the age. This stands up to modern image specs completely. You will be hard pressed to find a flaw in the print or the transfer. The animators used a painting look for the backgrounds that was completely experimental at the time. It worked, and, perhaps for the first time ever, you can really get a feel for the world the animators were trying to create. I challenge anyone to find something bad to say about this image.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track does everything you could ask it to do. If you’re a purist, the original Mono track is available here as well. I loved the Master Audio track, however. While it doesn’t provide a ton of surrounds, because it shouldn’t, the film feels bigger than it used to. I could sense a great response from my subs, particularly in climax with the whale. The crew here managed to bring in a fullness without screwing around with the audio placement. Dialog is very clear at all times. Thunderous sounds exist without covering up other important elements. It’s a perfect balance of maintaining the original experience and making it feel bigger. Job well done.
This is a 3 disc collection. The third disc is a DVD version of the film.
Disc 1 contains the film and a few film related extras:
Picture In Picture Commentary: Film experts: Leonard Maltin, Eric Goldberg, and J.B. Kauffman offer a commentary that you can watch as well as hear. They are obviously delighted to be a part of the picture and offer a lot of historical perspective. Unfortunately, they cover up a significant portion of the picture in doing so.
Music And More: You can skip directly to the songs and even have the lyrics pop up for you.
Pinocchio’s Matter Of Facts: This is a popup trivia track you can enable during the film.
Pinocchio Knows Trivia: Another popup during the film. This time it’s a quiz.
Disc 2 Contains all of the following all in HD:
Deleted Scenes: There are 3 in all. You get the handy play all option and each has an introduction explaining it a bit. They’re told through storyboards and narration. The total run time here is about 11 minutes.
The Sweatbox: Walt had a small projection room that was not air conditioned. It was here that story reels were played, and he would offer his comments throughout the film’s production. There are some reenactments from transcripts of actual sessions.
Live Action Reference Footage: Here’s another 10 minutes of more great stuff from the Disney archives. Everything from props to sets were provided to the animation team so that they would have reference material for their drawings. The vintage stuff here includes costumed actors acting out Jiminy Cricket’s scenes as reference. Very sweet.
Deleted Song: Honest John had a song. It’s really not very good, and you can see why it was abandoned early on. This is an old demo recording of the track.
Geppettos Then And Now: This 11 minute feature is really a documentary on the history of toy making.
No Strings Attached – The Making Of Pinocchio: At nearly an hour this documentary covers every aspect of the film. You get a good dose of history, Disney archive material, and interviews with the actual animation team. It’s all guided by film critic Leonard Maltin.
If you’ve never seen the movie, you have had a deprived childhood. Now is the time to rectify a tremendous injustice that fate has played upon you. This dazzling Blu-ray offers you the chance to see it like none of us has ever seen it before. Perfectly preserved now for another 70 years and beyond, Pinocchio is an absolute must for any Blu-ray collection. Could it ever get better than this? “A really lovely thought, but not at all practical.”