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Highly Recommended
4.5 stars
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Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4.5 Stars
Supplements
4 Stars
High-Def Extras
2 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Pinocchio (1940)

Street Date:
March 10th, 2009
Reviewed by:
Peter Bracke
Review Date: 1
March 10th, 2009
Movie Release Year:
1940
Studio:
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Length:
88 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated G
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

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.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

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.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

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.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

'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.)

Disc One

  • Trivia Track (HD) - Kicking things off is this pop-up text-and-graphics track, dubbed "Pinocchio's Master of Facts." It's cute, mixing a children's story version (in text form), plus factoids and behind-the-scenes trivia. Nicely done.
  • Disney Song Selections - Aka, a karaoke function. Flick it on, and subtitles appear with lyrics for all of the film's songs.
  • Music Video (HD, 3 minutes) - Eek! Another Disney Channel songstress gets a promo push by butchering a Disney classic. This time, it's "When You Wish Upon a Star," by Meaghan Jette Martin. Smother me now with a poisoned blanket, Jiminy Cricket!
  • Audio Commentary - Finally on disc one, this Blu-ray offers the option to watch the film with or without commentary, either audio-only or picture-in-picture form. Since the PIP version is an exclusive, I discuss both versions in the HD Bonus Content selection below...

Disc Two

  • Documentary: "No Strings Attached" (HD, 56 minutes) - The centerpiece of the newly-produced extras is this very fine, full-length doc. Unfortunately, it's effectiveness depends upon whether you watch the commentary and/or PIP track. Leonard Maltin, Eric Goldberg and J. B. Kaufman again appear (they are the leads on the commentary), as well as other animators and much archival footage of Walt Disney. However, there is additional background on 'Pinocchio' and it's development, so this is not an exact replica -- it's worth watching in its own right.
  • Deleted Scenes (HD) - This is a treasure trove of lost material and rough footage every Disney fan should see. First are 11 minutes of deleted scenes including an alternate ending, all in storyboard form. There's also "Live Action Reference Footage" (10 minutes of it), which was produced without sound for Disney animators, but is presented here with narrative to give insight and context. Finally, there is a deleted song, "Honest John," which is audio-only.
  • Featurette: "The Sweat Box" (HD, 6 minutes) - Short, but intriguing vignette on the legendary Disney screening room called the "Sweat Box" by animators, where they had to go and present their early work and ideas to the man himself, Walt Disney. I'd be sweatin', too...
  • Featurette: "Geppettos Then and Now" (HD, 11 minutes) - Interesting, if a bit thin, featurette on how 'Pinocchio' has helped shaped the history of toymaking.
  • Still Galleries (HD) - Titled "Pinocchio's Art Galleries," under this umbrella are no less than eight galleries. I counted at least 400 images, and probably a lot more -- everything from concept art, to sketches and storyboards, to more never-before-seen reference images. Disney certainly is first-rate when it comes to raiding their vaults to such fantastic extent.
  • Theatrical Trailers (SD) - Finally, rounding out this impressive package are a trio of theatrical trailers. For some reason, they are the only features on the entire set presented in standard-def only.

Disc Three

  • DVD Copy - As an added bonus, Disney has even thrown in a third disc, which features a standard-def copy of the film. I guess it's here if, just in case, you need to watch 'Pinocchio' on DVD. Or, I suspect, as a way to get non-Blu-ray-owning customers to buy this set anyway, enticing them to pick up a Blu-ray player in the near future.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

Of course, no Platinum Series Blu-ray would be complete without some exclusives, too...

  • Audio Commentary/Picture-in-Picture - Featured is an enlightening discussion with Leonard Maltin, Eric Goldberg and J. B. Kaufman, available as an audio-only track or full-blown PIP. The latter is far preferable -- the entire 88-minute chat is punctuated by rare behind-the-scenes footage, storyboard and artwork images, vintage interviews with animators, and other exciting finds. Though some information is repeated with the documentary, this PIP track is terrific. (Disney dubs the PIP track "Cine-Explore Mode," and a Bonus View/Profile 1.1-compatible player is required to access it.)
  • Interactive Games (HD) - More kid-friendly fare, with four challenges for the younger set. There's the "Pinocchio Know's Trivia Challenge" (which practically anyone can solve if you just watch a little of the trivia track); "Pinocchio's Puzzles," which is hosted by Jiminy Cricket; and a spate of three "Pleasure Island Carnival Games," which are arcade-like, though hard to control with the remote.
  • Movie Challenge (BD-Live) - The first of four BD-Live features, here you can compete in this online trivia challenge that runs throughout the length of the movie.
  • Movie Chat (BD-Live) - Type in your own text comments as the movie plays, and do your own version of a running text commentary. Sort of like a live 'Pinocchio' Blu-ray blog!?
  • Movie Mail (BD-Live) - Even weirder to me, you can create personalized voice messages that play attached to pre-selected film clips, and send them to other BD-Live users.
  • Disney Movie Rewards Live (BD-Live) - Finally, no Disney BD-Live experience would be complete without some marketing shill. Here, earn points playing the trivia, to "win" downloadable content like avatars and wallpapers.

Final Thoughts

'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.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray
  • BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc/BD-25 Single-Layer Disc
  • Two-Disc Set
  • Bonus View (Profile 1.1)
  • BD-Live (Profile 2.0)

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.33:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit)
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (192kbps)

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • French Subtitles
  • Spanish Subtitles

Supplements

  • Audio Commentary
  • Documentary
  • Featurettes
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Music Video
  • Still Galleries
  • Theatrical Trailers

Exclusive HD Content

  • Picture-in-Picture
  • Interactive Games
  • BD-Live