Saturday, March 22, 2008

Target #203: Pinocchio (1940, Hamilton Luske, Ben Sharpsteen)

TSPDT placing: #408
Directed by: Hamilton Luske, Ben Sharpsteen (supervising)
Written by: Carlo Collodi (story), Ted Sears, Otto Englander, Webb Smith, William Cottrell, Joseph Sabo, Erdman Penner, Aurelius Battaglia (story adaptation), Bill Peet (uncredited)
Starring: Mel Blanc, Walter Catlett, Frankie Darro, Cliff Edwards, Dickie Jones, Charles Judels, Christian Rub, Evelyn Venable

Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) was one of the defining landmarks in animation history, and proved both critically and commercially successful at the time of its release, briefly the high-grossing movie of all time. Not only was it the first Technicolor feature-length film, but it also set incredible new standards for animated colour and detail, aided by pioneering use of the multiplane camera. Three years later, Disney released a further two feature-length offerings, both of which proved initially unprofitable, but have since grown in stature to become indelible classics of American animation. Pinocchio (1940) and Fantasia (1940) are two wholly different feature films: whilst the latter is almost experimental in nature, a compilation of music-inspired segments that Disney envisioned as a "roadshow event," the former film is much closer to the spirit of Disney's previous success, adapting Carlo Collodi's 1883 story "The Adventures of Pinocchio" as a heart-filled children's tale, occasionally dark in tone, but never lacking a child-like sense of wonder.

An old and lonely toymaker, Geppetto (voiced by Christian Rub), has made a life out of bringing happiness to young children, and his homely cottage is filled with creative cuckoo-clocks and other whirring wooden contraptions. Aside from his two loyal pets, Figaro the cat and Cleo the goldfish, Geppetto lives a lonesome existence, and yearns for the love of a real child. One night, after finally completing a dancing wooden puppet named Pinocchio, the old inventor wishes upon a star that his creation be made into a real boy, never imagining for a moment that his wish might actually come true. In the basking glow of the moonlight, the beautiful Blue Fairy (Evelyn Venable) materialises in the silent bedroom, and, as our humble presenter Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards) watches from the shadows, the static wooden puppet is magically given life, and must prove himself worthy before he is transformed into a "real boy." Jiminy agrees to act as Pinocchio's conscience, steering him towards the path of righteousness, a task that proves considerably more difficult and dangerous than he could have imagined. As was the case in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the animators offer audiences so many colourful characters that at least one is bound to become your favourite. If the film's modest heroes don't strike your fancy, then you might also choose from the sly fox, J. Worthington "Honest John" Foulfellow (Walter Catlett) or his mute sidekick Gideon (Mel Blanc), who attempt to exploit Pinocchio for their own profit. There's also Stromboli (Charles Judels), the greedy Italian puppeteer, Lampwick (Frankie Darro) the mischievous little scamp who finds himself turning into a donkey, and Monstro, the immense, horrifying sperm whale whose heaving form instills terror in every marine creature in the ocean. The film's animation, though perhaps not quite as vibrantly colourful as in Snow White, is impeccably detailed, and often exceedingly beautiful. With excellent characters, and a worthy moral of behaving yourself and being selfless towards others, Pinocchio will persevere for many years to come as an endearing family favourite.

Currently my #5 film of 1940:
1) The Great Dictator (Charles Chaplin)
2) The Grapes Of Wrath (John Ford)
3) Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock)
4) Fantasia (James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Ford Beebe, Norman Ferguson, Jim Handley, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, Ben Sharpsteen)
5) Pinocchio (Hamilton Luske, Ben Sharpsteen)

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