USA 1940, 87 mins
Directors: Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske

Disney’s Pinocchio is the first cartoon feature to allegorise animation’s miracle, the creation of life. By Pinocchio’s release in 1940, cinema audiences had seen many fantastic births, but usually of monsters: Paul Wegener’s clay Golem, Fritz Lang’s robot Maria, the lumbering Boris Karloff. Early cartoons, meanwhile, reduced their life-giving magics to jaunty conjuring, inspired by the lightning artists of vaudeville. The connection is explicit in J. Stuart Blackton’s Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906), perhaps the first cartoon ever. The first chalk drawing is by a visible hand, but then the magician drops out and the faces move by themselves.

In contrast, Disney couches Pinocchio’s birth in wondrous fairytale metaphor, but with a showman’s wink to the audience. A winged Blue Fairy in a glittering dress touches her wand to a boy marionette and declares, ‘Little puppet made of pine; Wake, the gift of life is thine!’ Pinocchio wakes amid sunbursts, stretches and blinks his blue painted eyes, and we cut to the gnome-like spectator Jiminy Cricket, voiced by vaudeville star Cliff Edwards. Jiminy looks at us, lets out an impressed ‘Phew!’ and chirps, ‘What they can’t do these days!’ You can almost see Walt beaming with pride.

Pinocchio was the second cartoon feature released by Disney, three years after Snow White. It was a flop; war in Europe blighted foreign sales, while some critics argue the film was too dark for American viewers. Yet many reference books cite Pinocchio as the greatest cartoon feature ever, even if its images and characters haven’t sunk into the popular memory as deeply as Bambi, Dumbo and Snow White.

The technology unites handicrafts with high-tech. Pinocchio’s pictures were interpreted in 3D through the multiplane, a giant camera holding glass sheets on which cels, backgrounds and overlays were painted separately. When Pinocchio’s alpine village wakes, we swoop and turn overhead like a bird, looking down at the flocking crowds, though it’s typical of the pell-mell narrative that we never see this bustle again.

The film’s greatness is haphazard, its magic almost shapeless. It has five villains (including a monster whale), untidily sprawling set-pieces, broad panto knockabout (exaggerated double-takes abound) and moments of high terror. There’s the horror-film shadow of a doomed delinquent, turning from boy into donkey), and the shock-and-awe climax, where Pinocchio and the toymaker Gepetto are chased by a whale like a roaring locomotive. If Pinocchio has a self-metaphor, it’s Gepetto’s fantastic toyshop array of clocks shaped like animals, birds, dancers and delinquents, all brassily chiming the hour – though Gepetto must still check what time it actually is.

The carvings and clockwork of Gepetto’s home advertise the animators’ handicraft. The toyshop scenes drip enclosed and intimate charm, modulated by Gepetto’s cranky cat (animated by Eric Larson). Cliff Edwards as Jiminy was the first celebrity voice in Disney’s features, a precursor to Phil Harris in The Jungle Book and Robin Williams in Aladdin. Edwards, though, can mix fanny gags with snowy purity, and his tenor singing of ‘Fate steps in and sees you through…’ conjures a lost world of Hollywood gentility.

Disney’s Pinocchio is an adorable child, far from the devil doll created by Italian author Carlo Lorenzini, writing as Carlo Collodi. The original character swung between cruelty, indolence and prima-donna sentimentality, more ‘Looney Tunes’ than Disney. Walt didn’t corrupt the source; Pinocchio was an innocent in a popular 1938 US stage version directed by Yasha Frank. Disney’s and Collodi’s Pinocchios are often contrasted by pundits looking to denounce one or the other, but they can coexist. (Spielberg references Disney’s Pinocchio in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977, and Collodi’s in Artificial Intelligence A.I., 2001)

Collodi’s puppet is hero of a rickety junior Bildungsroman, a round of painful falls and lessons. Disney’s Pinocchio just needs to become a real boy to escape wicked exploiters, like the foxy J. Worthington Foulfellow with his red fur and quizzical, questing malignity, voiced by a bluff Walter Catlett. Far worse is the coachman who takes urchins to Pleasure Island, a cockney fiend who leers, ‘They never come back… AS BOYS!,’ and turns into a penny-dreadful cross between a gargoyle and Batman’s Joker (invented that year). The whinnying puppetmaster Stromboli, animated by Bill Tytla, is a campily monstrous Santa Claus. His rolling flesh and scarlet mouth foreshadow the rampaging whale at the end.

None of these evildoers are punished or destroyed, but just melt away like lemon drops, ready to entrap the next careless child. Even at the happy ending, we’re not allowed to linger at the celebrations, but follow Jiminy out into the cold night – though a night suffused with light, where each twinkling star equates to a small but sturdy conscience. Disney pours New World optimism over unkillable European nightmares; Pinocchio opened just as Europe was falling under tyranny.
Andrew Osmond, 100 Animated Feature Films (BFI/Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)

Director: Dick Rickard
USA 1938
8 mins

Supervising Directors: Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske
©: Walt Disney Productions
a Walt Disney production
Distributed by: RKO Radio Pictures
Presented by: Walt Disney
Sequence Directors: Bill Roberts, Norman Ferguson, Jack Kinney, Wilfred Jackson, T. Hee
Story Adaptation: Ted Sears, Otto Englander, Webb Smith, William Cottrell, Joseph Sabo, Erdman Penner, Aurelius Battaglia
From the story by: [Carlo] Collodi
Camera Operator: Chuck Wheeler
Animation Direction: Fred Moore, Franklin Thomas, Milton Kahl, Vladimir [‘Bill’] Tytla, Ward Kimball, Arthur Babbitt, Eric Larson, Woolie Reitherman
Animation: Jack Campbell, Oliver M. Johnston, Berny Wolf, Don Towsley, Don Lusk, John Lounsbery, Norman Tate, John Bradbury, Lynn Karp, Charles Nichols, Art Palmer, Joshua Meador, Don Tobin, Robert Martsch, George Rowley, John McManus, Don Patterson, Preston Blair, Les Clark, Marvin Woodward, Hugh Fraser, John Elliotte
Backgrounds: Claude Coats, Merle Cox, Ed Starr, Ray Huffine
Art Direction: Charles Philippi, Hugh Hennesy, Kenneth Anderson, Dick Kelsey, Kendall O’Connor, Terrell Stapp, Thor Putnam, John Hubley, McLaren Stewart, Al Zinnen
Character Designs: Joe Grant, Albert Hurter, John P. Miller, Campbell Grant, Martin Provensen, John Walbridge
Music and Lyrics: Leigh Harline, Ned Washington, Paul J. Smith
Sound System: RCA Sound System

Voice Cast – all uncredited
Dickie Jones (Pinocchio)
Cliff Edwards (Jiminy Cricket)
Christian Rub (Geppetto)
Walter Catlett (J. Worthington Foulfellow, ‘Honest John’)
Evelyn Venable (The Blue Fairy)
Frankie Darro (Lampwick)
Charles Judels (Stromboli/coachman)
Don Brodie (barker)

USA 1940©
87 mins

The screening on Sat 12 Aug will feature an extended introduction

Wed 2 Aug 14:20; Mon 14 Aug 20:30; Sun 27 Aug 13:15
Turning Red
Wed 2 Aug 20:20; Tue 8 Aug 14:20; Sat 26 Aug 15:30
The Jungle Book
Thu 3 Aug 14:20; Sun 6 Aug 13:00; Wed 16 Aug 20:45; Wed 30 Aug 14:20
Thu 3 Aug 18:00; Sat 19 Aug 17:30
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Fri 4 Aug 18:00; Sun 13 Aug 18:10; Tue 22 Aug 14:20; Wed 23 Aug 20:20
101 Dalmatians
Sat 5 Aug 13:20; Thu 10 Aug 14:20; Sat 19 Aug 15:30; Tue 29 Aug 14:20
Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Sat 5 Aug 15:40; Thu 17 Aug 14:20; Sun 27 Aug 18:20
Sister Act
Sat 5 Aug 20:40; Fri 18 Aug 18:20
Zootropolis (aka Zootopia)
Sun 6 Aug 13:10; Fri 25 Aug 18:00
Silent Cinema: Disney’s Silent Shorts + intro
Sun 6 Aug 15:30
Freaky Friday
Sun 6 Aug 18:20; Fri 18 Aug 20:30; Thu 24 Aug 20:50
The Parent Trap
Mon 7 Aug 18:00; Sun 20 Aug 15:10
Wed 9 Aug 14:20; Sat 12 Aug 11:30 (+ extended intro); Mon 14 Aug 14:20; Sun 20 Aug 19:00
Mary Poppins
Wed 9 Aug 17:50; Mon 21 Aug 14:20; Mon 28 Aug 13:00
Wed 9 Aug 20:30; Mon 28 Aug 12:30
The Love Bug
Fri 11 Aug 20:30; Sat 12 Aug 11:50; Sun 20 Aug 13:30
A Disney Day for Young Audiences
Sat 12 Aug 11:30-16:30
Sat 12 Aug 18:00; Sat 26 Aug 12:00
Sat 12 Aug 20:30; Sat 19 Aug 13:00; Thu 24 Aug 14:20
The Lion King
Sun 13 Aug 13:00 (+ Funday Sing-along); Sat 26 Aug 20:30; Thu 31 Aug 14:20
The Fiendishly Difficult Disney Quiz
Sun 13 Aug 15:30 Blue Room
Sun 13 Aug 15:50; Wed 16 Aug 14:20; Sat 26 Aug 12:20; Mon 28 Aug 16:20
Finding Nemo
Sun 13 Aug 18:30; Sun 27 Aug 13:30
The Rescuers
Mon 14 Aug 18:30; Sat 19 Aug 15:50
Sat 19 Aug 12:00; Tue 29 Aug 20:30
Dick Tracy
Fri 25 Aug 20:40; Tue 29 Aug 18:10 (+ intro by Ben Roberts, BFI CEO)
The Little Mermaid
Sun 27 Aug 16:00; Mon 28 Aug 16:40

With thanks to The Walt Disney Company

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
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