The Screening Room
pinocchio blu ray
"Pinocchio" is one of my all-time favorite films, period. It doesn't matter if it's touted as one of Walt Disney's masterpieces by the studio. This is simply an outstanding film in any category.

“Pinocchio” is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. This is a review of the Blu-ray.

During Christmas of 1978, my parents took me to the Century 21 Theater in Anaheim. I didn't know it at the time, but the theatre had been split from a single screen theater into two. All I really remember of the Century 21 was the long auditorium and red curtains. The lights faded and the Disney short film, "The Small One," lit up the screen. But my mind was on seeing "Pinocchio." The Disney studio would re-release their classics in theaters, and it was always with anticipation I'd beg my parents to see them. My dad said his parents took him to see it when he was my age. What I saw unfold on that screen held me captive and would stay with me for years.

The Disney Studio had mastered the art of the animated feature with "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937). With that film, Disney showed that animation was more than cute cartoons. It could be another form of storytelling in the movies. Walt, being the perfectionist, challenged his animators to do even better with their next feature, "Pinocchio." Though the film didn't initially do very well at the box office, it has proven itself to be an outstanding piece of filmmaking.

There are so many levels to the brilliance of this film that a book could be written on it. For such a simple story idea about a woodcarver who wishes for a real son, Walt Disney's version delves into what makes wishing special and the idea of growing up to become responsible. It's also a story about love and following your conscience.

The movie is sincere and frightening. It's a dichotomy of the human mind and spirit. The film opens with Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards) singing "When You Wish Upon A Star" and a spotlight on the book of "Pinocchio." The song has been a Disney staple now for almost 70 years. To hear Jiminy sing it, one can't help but to be drawn into the spirit of this film. Within one song, and one simple scene, we're already set for an adventure.

Jiminy is so wonderfully drawn and acted that it's hard to believe he's made of ink and paint. What I've always enjoyed about him are his street smarts and his undying devotion to Pinocchio (Dickie Jones). He's truly meant to become the wooden boy's conscience, even though it's not immediately known to him. His personality is so strong that it could easily have overtaken the entire film. But Edwards' acting is also restrained. He knows when to allow the character to turn down the volume a bit to let a scene work. A good example of this is his scene with Pinocchio in Stromboli's wagon. It's hilarious, and somewhat touching, to watch how Jiminy tries to figure out how to get out of that mess. You know they're trapped. What always gets me is how he tries to get Pinocchio not to keep lying to the Blue Fairy (Evelyn Venable). He's hilarious with his short quips as Pinocchio's nose grows larger and larger.

The film has a triptych of main characters, and Geppetto (Christian Rub) really resonates. He is one of the sweetest characters to come out of the Disney studio. You really believe in his wish upon a star to have a son. There is no need to go into backstory (as many movies do now) over why he wants a son to call his own. It's not necessary. Everything we need to know about Geppetto is set up in the opening half hour. He's all alone with no family other than Figaro and Chloe. He wants a real son; a human being. A delight in seeing his character is his dance with the puppet Pinocchio. He's both very kind but a bit mischievious when he makes the puppet kick Figaro's behind.

Disney's character of Pinocchio is a real charmer. So innocent and so naive, you wonder if the wooden boy will survive in the cruel world with or without Jiminy. His animated character is perfectly matched to Dickie Jones' voice. He's every bit a young boy who's eager to learn about the world around him and to please his father. This is a rare film that shows the honesty of a little boy and what he's up against. Does he follow the right path and go to school? Or does he follow the wrong path and try to be an actor? His innocence and his lack of street smarts obviously leads him down the wrong path. Simple story concept, but Disney and his animators infused the film more depth than that.

The film uses Pinocchio's adventures to show not only his devotion to his father, but his growth into a young and responsible young man. He screws up a lot along the way, despite Jiminy's help. I've always admired how Pinocchio takes it upon himself, with or without Jiminy's help, to rescue Geppetto from Monstro the Whale.

The villains in the film are first-rate. No villain is wasted by being drawn thinly. Although K. Worthington Foulfellow (Honest John) & Gideon, Stromboli and the Coachman really only are on-screen for short amounts of time, we soak in their evil personalities. Honest John & Gideon are basically street hustlers with no real power other than to gain Pinocchio's trust. The real villains are Stromboli and the Coachman. These two are purely evil and have no remorse. Witness Stromboli's simple illustration of what happens to puppets who don't obey him. The Coachman has perhaps the most power. He can turn evil little boys into donkeys! 

"Pinocchio" is a film filled with rich detail. The artwork in the backgrounds is truly breathtaking, showing that the artists at Disney were top notch. Geppetto's workshop, which is the longest scene in the film, has so many different details that one has to re-watch it again just to soak it in. The clocks are charming and amazing, each with its own little scene of comedy.

One of the hallmarks of this film is the camerawork. Walt probably encouraged his animators to make full use of the Multiplane Camera on this production. It was an expensive machine to operate, but Walt knew that it could be used to tell his stories. The camera used different levels of glass, with various scene elements painted on it, to create a sense of dimension. The effect could be startling and beautiful. In the wrong hands, the Multiplane Camera could be abused. But Walt's animators knew better. The technology was there to enhance the story and not showcase itself. There are numerous shots in the film of fluid pans that tilt and dive into the scenes. Not one of these shots, which probably took a long to time to set up and shoot, is wasted. One of my favorites is Jiminy's opening scene where the book he's reading to us come alive with the Wishing Star. The camera focuses in on the star, then takes a graceful pan down into Geppetto's village. Another standout shot is Pinocchio's first day at school. The camera weaves itself into the village while people and children run outside into the streets.

The music and musical score of the film is truly remarkable. Not only are the songs memorable, the score is very strong and underscores each scene perfectly. The music was written by Leigh Harline & Paul J. Smith. None of the songs they wrote is wasted just to have singing and dancing routine. They're each crucial to the story. Too many musical films of that era, and others, would contain too many songs that dragged down the plot. The songs and music in "Pinocchio" keep the movie running at a great pace. Each song represents the characters as themes of not only their personalities, but of keeping the storyline moving. My favorite has been "I've Got No Strings."

As for the score, it's brilliant. Many musical films only used a score in spots, or none at all. "Pinocchio" uses the score to underlie the scenes with joyful music (Geppetto's shop), or terrifying menace (Pleasure Island). I've often played the soundtrack on my stereo system just to listen to music score and not the songs. It's that good.

There are so many scenes in the film that are excellent, it's hard to pin down one. So I'll pick out three that include joy, menace, and sadness.

The opening scene in Geppetto's shop is the longest in the movie, running almost 30 minutes. But it's such a thoughtfully rendered scene you lose track of time. It's such a joy to see the progression of Geppetto's wish for a boy, to Pinocchio springing to magical life. There is so much going on here. We meet all of the main protagonists. We're set on what will happen in the rest of the movie. It's as if we've been given a road map on our journey with Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket. We may know pretty much what's in store, but we don't know everything.

Pleasure Island must rank up there with the greatest horror film scenes. Walt Disney wasn't afraid, contrary to the belief that his films were all sugar coated, of scaring an audience. The sequence of Lampwick's transformation from street hoodlum to a donkey is terrifying. At first it's comical as he develops donkey ears, much to the surprise of Pinocchio (who looks at his cigar and flicks it away). Then he turns, quite painfully, into a donkey. The play of his shadows on the wall and the real time transformation of his hands into hoofs probably gave children nightmares!

Pinocchio's rescue of Geppetto in the belly of Monstro the Whale is heroic and sad. I can remember sitting on the edge of my seat at the Century 21 hoping that Pinocchio, Geppetto and Jiminy would escape from Monstro. The entire escape sequence is thrilling as Monstro chases the raft with the focus of a great white shark hunting its prey. I'm still amazed at Monstro's turn in the ocean, cutting through the water. Once the raft gets through the mountain hole, the production team on "Pinocchio" gives the audience a chance to catch its breath. Only then do we see the loss incurred.

The Blu-ray disc is something to behold, but you ought to be aware of the digital "restoration" that allegedly brings out the original artist's intent. The picture is clear as day and the film almost looks as if it was made yesterday. It does look striking. But readers of my reviews will no doubt recognize my own feelings over the enhancement of older titles like "Pinocchio."

Films of the early 1940s were made with different cameras, lenses and filmstocks than today. With digital technology, audiences (and studios) seem to require that everything they see on Blu-ray must be crystal clear. These are the same audience members who probably run every movie and television show in full widescreen on their 16x9 sets.

The lenses used on "Pinocchio" probably weren't as sharp as some of today's lenses. The cameras may have had registration errors. Film grain was present, as was (from what I remember in the theatrical prints) the soft appearance to the imagery. In my opinion, those so-called flaws were a part of the film's magic. It wasn't supposed to look like modern animation! The old fashioned technology Disney used (and it was state-of-the-art when the film was made) had natural flaws. Dust and dirt found its way into the Multiplane Camera. How could it not? To me, seeing natural film grain, occasional dust particles, softness to the image on-screen is the same as hearing a bit of tape hiss on an LP, or distortion in a rock & roll recording. Scrubbing perfectly natural anomalies from "Pinocchio" makes the film seem sterile.

The Blu-ray contains "Disney View," a new concept in presenting the film in "widescreen." Artist Toby Bluth was commissioned by Disney to create painted sidebars on the left and right of the movie image. Thus if you're watching this on a widescreen display, Bluth's artwork will frame the movie. The paintings are done very tastefully and match the style of the film. The viewer has the option to chose to watch the film with or without the sidebars. I watched it with and without Bluth's artwork, which isn't as obtrusive as I thought it might be. I still preferred watching it with the standard black bars in the sides of my screen.

The film was shot in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio, which if shown properly on a widescreen television set, or on a true movie theater screen, would be placed in the middle of the screen. In a movie theater, the projectionist would (if he or she is good) mask the screen to fit the 1.37:1 aspect ratio. With "Disney View," it's my opinion that Disney is trying to use yet another marketing gimmick to sell videos. I don't have a problem with that. But movies like "Pinocchio" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (which is apparently going to feature "Disney View") can stand on their own. I also believe that Disney is pandering to viewers who watch everything on their television in widescreen.

The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio in 7.1 surround sound. The audio is outstanding and tastefully presented. Everything sounds natural and full-bodied. The sound restoration team did a tasteful job on the mix, seemingly remaining faithful to the original sound and keeping the audio in the front channels. The sound is spread out with a nice soundstage.

The original mono soundtrack is also available. This also sounds excellent and this is the way I prefer to hear the movie. The opening of the disc menu goes from a muffled recording to rich stereo. This is a bit misleading. The soundtrack for the film has always been a good and solid recording. I've seen the film theatrically (in mono sound) and it's always sounded fine.

It's been over 30 years since I saw "Pinocchio" for the first time. The Century 21 is long gone, but still remains in my memory. The tale of a wooden boy and his father still affects me like it did sitting in that theatre one chilly night with mom & dad.                 

Bill Kallay

Special thanks to Click Communications

Photos: © BVHE. All rights reserved.
Blu-ray Quick Glimpse



Walt Disney's masterpiece is back!

Director: Hamilton Luske
Ben Sharpsteen  

Cast: Cliff Edwards, Dickie Jones, Charles Judels, Christian Rub, Evelyn Venable 

DVD copy of the feature film, "Making Of," never-before-scenes, "Disney View"


Picture: Excellent (though scrubbed too clean)
Sound: Excellent

The detail is remarkable in the original film's animation and storyline

Aspect Ratio (1.37:1)
(1.78:1 with "Disney View")

Original mono soundtrack 

March 10, 2009
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