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(1940) **** G
88 min. Walt Disney Pictures. Directors: Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton S. Luske. Cast: Dick Jones, Christian Rub, Cliff Edwards, Frankie Darro, Charles Judels.

/content/films/3362/1.jpgIt can be difficult to set aside the litany of products and spin-offs—theme parks, Halloween costumes, coloring books, video games and the like—and remember clearly the actual merits of a Disney animated film. The best way, of course, is to revisit the films themselves, which Disney has been happy to make possible with periodic prying open of the "Disney vault."  To revisit 1940's Pinocchio is to find a delightfully entrancing musical-fantasy moral parable for children, with enough artful craftsmanship and wit (and lessons in respectable behavior) to please their adult overseers.

It's true that producer Walt Disney, in appropriating Carlo Collodi's 1883 children's novel, steered it into a homogenized version that, while populated with many of Collodi's creative concepts, is a horse of a different color. But adaptation is its own art, here requiring seven screenwriters for seven directors. The Disney version of Pinocchio, while decidely less dark and quirky than either Collodi's original serialization or his own slightly softened version in novel form, expertly balances whimsy, adventure, terrifying perils, music, comedy, and warmth on the way to a reassuring worldview of moral order, of virtue rewarded and the bosom embrace of familial figures.

Clocking in at a brisk 88 minutes, Disney's Pinocchio lays out the magical realist story of a marionette that comes to life when its creator, elderly woodcarver Geppetto (Christian Rub) wishes upon a star (after the old nursery rhyme "Star Light, Star Bright"). The marionette is Pinocchio (Dickie Jones), a naïf who defaults to an overly trusting personality and a human nature inclined to hedonism. It's up to his "conscience" Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards)—given a field promotion to said post by the very same Blue Fairy (Evelyn Venable) who gave Pinocchio life—to keep his new friend "Pinocch" on the straight and narrow path. "Be a good boy," the Blue Fairy counsels, "and always let your conscience be your guide."

It's no stretch to see similarities with works like John Bunyan's Christian allegory The Pilgrim's Progress or that other monumental children's film The Wizard of Oz in Pinocchio's picaresque journey, dotted as it is with toils and snares, and overseen by a magical guiding light. A fox and a cat, "Honest" John (Walter Catlett) and Gideon (whose hiccup is that of Mel Blanc) waylay Pinocchio on "the easy road to success...the theater" (as any actor will tell you: LOL), where the magical wooden boy becomes the star attraction for low-rent impresario Stromboli (Charles Judels).

Later, "Honest" John and Gideon ferry Pinocchio into the clutches of a Coachman (also Judels) who takes Pinocchio and his new bad boy friend Lampwick (Frankie Darro) to Pleasure Island, a no-rules children's paradise where playing hooky from school, lying, and smoking are the order of the day...but sinister plans are afoot for the hapless delinquents. The story's final stretch requires Pinocchio to prove himself "brave, truthful, and unselfish" in the rescue of Geppetto from the belly of a giant whale named Monstro. The mutual outpouring of selfless, unconditional love from model parent Geppetto ("Poor little Pinocchio. He was such a good boy") and the wooden boy who had his humanity in him all along allows the story to end on a heartwarming high note.

/content/films/3362/2.jpgComing on the heels of 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio finds the Disney studio at the top of its game and, as such, establishing a standard for the films that would follow (witness for instance, the paradigm of the otherwise lonely Geppetto's cute animal companions, the beautifully animated fish Cleo and cat Figaro). Five songs by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington add to the film's charm: the Disney theme "When You Wish Upon a Star," "Little Wooden Head," "Give a Little Whistle," "Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee," and the jaunty, joyful "I've Got No Strings."

It goes without saying that the greatest magic of Disney's Pinocchio is in the hand-drawn art: the deftness of the character animation (like Ward Kimball's work on Jiminy Cricket), the stylish design of the European storybook look (with painted backgrounds designed by Albert Hurter and Gustaf Tenggren), and the enormous power of the expertly drawn sequences underwater and on the waves (shepherded by effects animator Sandy Strother). It all contributes to the inestimable entertainment value of what's arguably the best-known morality tale for kids.

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Aspect ratios: 1.33:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Dolby Digital Mono

Street date: 1/31/2017

Distributor: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Disney's previous issue of Pinocchio was the 2009 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition Blu-ray + DVD combo pack. Now, in 2017, Disney reissues Pinocchio in a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack that that thereby marks the film's Digital HD debut. A/V specs remain the same as the previous edition, with an identical transfer and audio (a couple of deleted lines of audio necessitated a replacement disc program for the first batch of Pinocchio Platinum Edition discs: this edition obviously includes the correct audio). That's good news: the digitally restored image yields dazzling clarity and rich color, noticeably spruced up from previous home video releases. Nitpickers have noted the use of DNR to scrub away grain and some small degree of fine detail in the hand-drawn lines of the animation, but even most of those purists acknowledge that the hi-def picture quality here represents a step forward for the title on home video.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix fully maximizes the available elements, which of course show their age, while adding some judicious placement for the effects and fullness to the presentation of the music. It's hard to imagine that Pinocchio could, or even should, ever sound better than it does in this faithful aural rendering. And, thankfully for purists, a restored Dolby Digital Mono mix is also included as a playback option. As with the previous release, there's also a Sing-Along Version playback option with karaoke-style subtitles for the songs—similarly there's a Song Selection menu option taking you to each song with subtitles—and a Disney View option that fills the edges of the screen to supplement the Academy-ratio image with "beautiful custom paintings by Toby Bluth."

As for bonus features, let's begin by looking at the brand-new extras included in this release. The two-part The Pinocchio Project: When You Wish Upon A Star comprises "The Project" (3:03, HD), a brief making-of featurette about a new music video, with comments from musicians JR Aquino, Tanner Patrick, and Alex G, as well as music producer Philippe Saisse, and "The Video" (2:49, HD) itself, a new treatment of "When You Wish Upon A Star" featuring the aforementioned three musicians. It's all rather pointless and not likely to be a draw for anyone.

The new extras get more substantial and appealing with "Walt's Story Meetings: Pleasure Island" (7:14, HD), an illustrated (with archival design sketches and photographs) and annotated (interviews with director Pete Docter and historian J.B. Kaufman) recreation of the 1938/1939 story meetings about the Pleasure Island sequence, using actors reading archival transcripts of those meetings.

Likewise an illuminating treasure from the vaults, "In Walt's Words – Pinocchio" (4:48, HD) serves up a 1956 clip of Walt Disney talking about Pinocchio, its production under Walt's guidance, and the effect of WWII on the studio.

Last among the new extras is "Oswald The Lucky Rabbit In 'Poor Papa'" (5:19, HD). This long-lost 1927 black-and-white animated short (first released in 1928) gets its first commercial home video release here in a new cut that seems to be a bit shorter than the initial one but in other respects is restored for optimal video and audio.

From here, the disc is filled out with previously available extras. The audio commentary by film critic Leonard Maltin, Disney animator Eric Goldberg and film historian J.B. Kaufman was previously presented as a Cine-Explore PiP track with behind-the-scenes images and archival interviews from the original talent. Now it comes as an audio-only feature.

The Classic Bonus Content treasure trove begins with "The Making of Pinocchio: No Strings Attached" (56:09, SD), a great featurette with comments by Maltin, Goldberg, Kaufman, animation historian Jerry Beck, Disney historian Brian Sibley, animator Frank Thomas (1994, 1985 archival interviews), UC Berkeley film historian Russell Merritt, Ward Kimball (1983, 1995), animator Andreas Deja, animator Milt Kahl (1984), animation historian Michael Barrier, visual development artist Mike Gabriel, Ollie Johnston (1994), producer Don Hahn, author and professor of Media Studies Thomas Andrae, Eric Larson (1983), music professor Daniel Goldmark, Dick Jones (voice of Pinocchio), animation historian John Culhane, animator Joe Grant (1994), and Disney Animation Studio creative director for special projects Dave Bossert.

Three "Deleted Scenes" (10:33 with "Play All," HD) include an "Introduction" about the Disney Animation Research Library, the cut sequences "The Story of the Grandfather Tree" and "In the Belly of the Whale," and an "Alternate Ending," cleverly recreated using storyboards, design art and voice-over.

"The Sweatbox" (6:25, HD) is a featurette about a Disney innovation, with talking heads Kaufman, Goldberg, Maltin, Gabriel, Goldmark, and Norman, while "Geppettos Then and Now" (10:57, HD) looks at puppeteering with toy maker Cyril Hobbins, marionette maker Lenka Pavlícková, curator & owner of the Toy Museum Munich & Prague Ivan Steiger, VP of Technology and Innovation at Disney Toys Chris Heatherly, general manager of Future Toys Kimitaka Watanabe, co-founder & president of Emotiv Systems Tan Le, and Emotiv product engineer Marco Della Torre.

"Live Action Reference Footage" (9:57, HD) presents the live-action film footage shot as a useful touchstone for animators.

Also on hand are three Trailers—"Original Theatrical Trailer (1940)" (1:52, SD), "Theatrical Trailer (1984)" (1:25, SD), and "Theatrical Trailer (1992)" (1:33, SD)—and "'When You Wish Upon a Star' Music Video by Meaghan Jette Martin" (3:15, HD).

Though not a new bonus feature, this edition also includes an extra that's new to Blu-ray: "Storyboard-To-Film Final Comparison" (4:04, SD), which juxtaposes original storyboards to final versions of selected scenes.

Omitted from this edition are these bonuses included on the previous Platinum Edition: "Deleted Song: 'Honest John'" (2:37, HD), Eight Pinocchio Art Galleries, a Games & Activities section with Pinocchio's Matter of Facts, a Disney's Smart Games section with Pinocchio Knows Trivia Challenge, and Disc Two's Games & Activities entries Pinocchio's Puzzles and Pleasure Island Carnival Games, and BD-Live functionality. 

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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