I was a strange child... I just never liked Disney animated movies. They scared me, but not for the obvious reasons. I was actually frightened of the happy heroines and dashing princesses -- I couldn't relate to their complete lack of melancholia and ambiguity, nor the storybook world they inhabited. Instead, I loved the villains -- forget the boring Snow White or Cinderella, and give me the Wicked Witch or mean ol' stepsisters any day! So it was the rare Disney movie -- 'Pinocchio' being one of the very few -- that I actually enjoyed, then and now.
On paper, 'Pinocchio' sounds pretty crazy -- surreal, even. It's certainly a far cry from the more banal and traditional (in my opinion) likes of 'Snow White,' which directly preceded 'Pinocchio's release. The story is of a lonely old woodcarver and puppetmaker, Geppetto (voiced by Christian Rub), who one day crafts a marionette he names Pinocchio (Dickie Jones). One bright night, Geppetto wishes upon a star to make Pinocchio a real boy -- only to wake up to find that the Blue Fairy (Evelyn Venable) has granted his desire. But there are a few strings attached -- Pinocchio must act the part of a real boy, by being always honest, selfless, and kind. Pinocchio is also given a friend, a cricket named Jiminy (Cliff Edwards), who will act as his de facto conscience.
'Pinocchio' is far more complex than even this synopsis suggests. Walt Disney was always astute at weaving grand themes into all of his animated classics, but I find 'Pinocchio' more complex and dark than just about any of his other films. 'Pinocchio' veers from the sinister to the scary to the unnerving. Pinocchio will immediately set out on his quest to become a "real boy," leaving him into the hands of two con men (Mel Blanc, Walter Catlett), who promptly sell him to an oily showman, Stromboli (Charles Judels). There, Pinocchio escapes with the help of the Blue Fairy, eventually ending up on a very bizarre place called Pleasure Island, where puppets are transformed into donkeys, and Pinocchio must eventually rescue Geppetto from the belly of a giant whale.
I have to wonder if some of those old Disney folks weren't dropping acid when they came up with this story. Though not as trippy as, say, 'Alice in Wonderland,' there is some true weirdness going on here. I always found the con men to be quite dangerous, far more potentially harmful to Pinocchio in morals and spirit than you would expect in a Disney film. Likewise Pleasure Island, where Pinocchio will learn about harsh adult realities of temptation, corruption, and exploitation. There is so much going on in 'Pinocchio,' both narratively and thematically, that it remains a rich film that far transcends the tag of "family animated entertainment" to reward viewers with something new upon each viewing.
That 'Pinocchio' is also a visual marvel goes without saying. Though perhaps 'Snow White,' 'Fantasia,' and 'Sleeping Beauty' may be more visually spectacular in terms of fantasy and razzle-dazzle, 'Pinocchio' is a true work of art. It's restrained in its use of background, color, and texture -- every shot is a wonder of subtle beauty to behold. Add to that wonderfully memorable characters, swift pacing and emotional depth and resonance, and you have a true masterpiece. Free of the more simplistic schmaltz that mars some Disney classics for me, 'Pinocchio' is among my all-time favorites animated films ever produced by the studio.
This first-ever high-def presentation of 'Pinocchio' easily blows away any past video version. Disney is releasing the Blu-ray day-and-date with a 70th anniversary DVD re-issue, most fans will only be familiar with the previous DVD, and a myriad of other laserdisc and VHS versions. This is another restoration on par with absolute Disney triumphs such as 'Snow White' -- 'Pinocchio' looks fantastic by any measure for a 70 year-old film. It continues to amaze me how good Disney can make their animated treasures look. (Note: This transfer is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, pillarboxed to fill the 16:9 frame. However, Disney provides an option to "paint in" the pillarbox with patterned color. I found it gave an odd, distracting effect, but it's your choice.)
First, the film's color palette -- there's been some controversy that Disney has altered or tweaked the film's original stylistic intent. Comparing this Blu-ray to the previous DVD (not the new 70th anniversary edition), the Blu-ray indeed looks less "vibrant," at least in terms of saturation. But the old DVD was plugged up and noisy -- I vastly preferred this version of 'Pinocchio,' which is smoother, cleaner and far more textured. Though there remains some film grain -- thankfully -- there is none of the noise, and colors are far more pleasing and rich. (Disney has made no official comment on any of these online complaints, but I'm certainly happy with the results and will say I think they know what they are doing.)
The remaining aspects of the transfer are exceptional. The quality of the source is terrific seven decades on. Details are sharp and defined, with strong shadow delineation that reveals great fine texture and depth. I saw no obvious print flaws that can plague classic remasters -- there is no discernible variance to contrast, or muddy/fluctuating blacks. Gone is the annoying edge enhancement that crippled the previous DVD, and the lack of noise and artifacts is much welcome. Maybe I was not completely blown away by 'Pinocchio' as I have been by other, revelatory Disney remasters, but that may be more due to 'Pinocchio's lack of visual razzle-dazzle on par with a 'Snow White' or 'Cinderella.' But I can't fault this transfer for that -- it's hard to imagine 'Pinocchio' looking any better than it does here.
Disney offers two audio choices for 'Pinocchio,' a remixed DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 7.1 Surround track (48kHz/-24-bit) as well as the original monaural via a restored Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (192kbps) option. For once, I enjoyed the remix, as it expanded the sonic scope of the film without resorting to an overly processed or artificial feel.
Comparing the DTS-MA with the restored Mono, the surrounds are fairly active. I was impressed that effects felt discrete, with a full-bodied dynamic range rare for a remix of this vintage. The rear channels are not always sustained, and minor ambiance is present but strongest with typical score bleed -- but it's still a strong effort. The source has been nicely cleaned-up, too, with no audio dropouts or other anomalies. I did find the mix still on the brash and bright side -- it's likely thankful that Disney didn't go overboard and whitewash the sound and remove any uniqueness, but this remix still can't quite overcome the limitations of the film's era. But no matter -- 'Pinocchio' sounds very, very good, either in DTS-MA or traditional mono.
'Pinocchio' is Disney's latest Platinum Series Blu-ray release, and the studio has once again pulled out all the stops for one of its animated classics. Two full discs of fun are on display, and it's a polished and classy affair. Few do Blu-ray special editions like Disney. (Even better, all newly-produced video material is in 1080 video, and looks great.)
'Pinocchio' is one of Disney's animated classics, and tells a timeless tale that will be familiar to just about everyone on the planet. It remains a wistful and poignant film, and if not as flashy as some of Disney's other epics, may be more emotionally direct. This Blu-ray is terrific. The video and audio restoration is topflight, and the extras bountiful. But, then, I don't need to give you a recommendation -- if you've read this far already, you undoubtedly are going to rush out and buy 'Pinocchio' on Blu-ray.