Thursday, March 16, 2017

Pinocchio (1940)


Starring (voices): Dickie Jones, Cliff Edwards, Christian Rub, Evelyn Venable, Walter Catlett

Rated G

"Pinocchio" is pure Disney magic.  It's whimsical, funny, scary, charming, and yes, magical.  From frame one I knew I was in for a truly special experience.  I was not let down.

Gepetto (Rub) is a devoted woodcarver in a small European village.  He lives with his cat Figaro and fish Cleo, but alas he is single and without a child.  He has just completed a marionette of a boy, whom he dubs Pinocchio.  When he sees a shooting star, he makes a wish that Pinocchio would become a real boy.  Because of his good deeds, the Blue Fairy (Venable) grants him his wish.  But as she tells Pinocchio (Jones), there's a catch: for now, he's a walking and talking puppet, but in order to become flesh and blood, he must prove himself.  To help him, she promotes Jiminy Cricket (Edwards), a traveling cricket who has just stopped in to warm himself for the night, to be his conscience.  But Pinocchio is incredibly na├»ve and thus easy prey for sleazy sorts like J. Worthington Foulfellow (Catlett), who seek to use him for their own ends.

There are so many iconic scenes in this movie that even someone who has never seen it from start to finish, such as myself, knows the entire journey.  But true pleasure comes from taking the entire journey from beginning to end.  We see Pinocchio go from a simpleton to an independent young boy, and while other films have mined this material with a stronger script and character identification, one must remember that this was made during World War II.  Budgets, filmmaking technologies and viewer tastes weren't sophisticated enough to allow for such depth (that wasn't meant to be insulting, by the way).  Plus, it hardly matters.

The voice acting is right on the money.  Leading the cast is Cliff Edwards, whose Jiminy Cricket is filled with enthusiasm and good humor.  The audience forms an instantaneous bond with him.  As the title character, Dickie Jones manages to be cute and sympathetic without being sickening.  Christian Rub makes for a gentle, if absent-minded, Gepetto.  And the rest of the cast is solid as well.  I admit to being a little turned off by Walter Catlett as the sly fox, but I got used to him very quickly.

"Pinocchio" is one of those rare movies that can enchant everyone from age 3 to 300.  It's a treasure that will never get old.

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