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Pinocchio begins with warm-hearted toy maker Geppetto doing what he does best. Putting the finishing touches on a beautiful marionette puppet, it doesn't take long for us to figure out who the toy maker is to a T. He's loving and caring, but he's never had the opportunity to share the warmth that's bursting from inside at every seam, at least not with someone on a personal level. His craft became his passion, and the excellent products he carved out of wood himself, has been a great joy to the children in town. Despite not having a family to call his own, Geppetto did whatever he could to put a smile on the face of any child who walked into his shop. The love and care he's put into his work never made his own dreams come true, however.
Later that night, Geppetto wishes upon a shooting star that he'd like Pinocchio to be a real boy, and goes off to sleep without a second thought. Because of all the happiness he's given to people in town, a blue fairy comes to bring Geppetto's wish to fruition, turning Pinocchio into a marionette that can walk and talk without a puppet master at the helm.
The catch is that it's entirely up to Pinocchio if Geppetto's wish will come true. If Pinocchio can show he is able to resist the temptations of the world, while not being a liar, a cheat, or unselfish, then he'll one day become a real boy, just as Geppetto wished. Being brought to life with the ability to walk and talk unfortunately brings some naivety along with it, so a joyful cricket by the name of Jimini is appointed to be Pinocchio's conscience to help him along the way.
The very next day, Geppetto, happier than he's ever been, sends Pinocchio off to school so he can learn the ways of the world. On his way, a couple of schemers spot the lively marionette, and coerce him into joining a traveling gypsy to become a star. Jimini tries to read Pinocchio the riot act, but since Pinocchio has no reason to be weary of his new friends, doesn't listen and runs off to be a star.
The first test is one of temptation through money and fame, and is only the beginning of a life altering adventure that's meant to school Pinocchio in a classroom of hard knocks, so he can quickly learn the difference between right and wrong. As an added incentive, Pinocchio learns the hard way that his nose will grow whenever he lies. Finally beginning to learn there are consequences for his actions, Pinocchio sets off on a journey to find his way home, and rescue his 'father' who's trapped in the belly of whale known as Monstro.
At first glance, Pinocchio could sound like a preachy lesson in morality, and with the fat skimmed off the top, that's pretty much what it is. This movie tells you that you're supposed to go to school, and that you should never resort to lying, stealing, drinking, or smoking. The messages in this film are almost painfully clear on the surface, because we see our little wooden head suffering from the consequences of each of these wrong doings. One drag off a big fat cigar for example, and Pinocchio is literally turning green.
It's incredibly refreshing to see such lessons being taught this way though. Can you imagine what would happen today if an animated Disney film came out with one of its stars smoking and drinking, despite the message it would be trying to convey? Parents would flip out! What Pinocchio understood though, was that the most important lessons in life are usually learned through experience, and we certainly get to see that with how fast Pinocchio learns from his own mistakes.
Pinocchio is really about so much more than the constant struggle between right and wrong though. The film as a whole also conveys the qualities of love, friendship, sacrifice, and family. The end result is a film that's suitable for anyone, and of any age. If you're an adult who's never seen Pinocchio, you're bound to appreciate the quick and painless pace of the film, as well as some of its memorable musical numbers.
Another aspect of Pinocchio that's incredibly fascinating, is just how darn good some of the animation looks. Take for example a scene where Pinocchio and Jiminy are preparing to dive into the ocean. The cliff they're atop of gives a magnificent view of the ocean, and the way the water moves and shines looks realistic. For a film that's quickly approaching three quarters of a century in age, there are numerous effects such as this throughout the film that provide a bit of a 'wow' factor.
If you've seen Pinocchio before, I'm sure we can agree on calling this film 'magical'. Disney met a lot of skepticism when they first released this, merely because it was a product of animation in a feature length format. Snow White met the same skepticism, and here we are generations later, still enjoying the same classic masterpiece in the same way it was enjoyed back then. In more ways even! If you've been holding off on adding this Disney masterpiece to your collection, now is definitely the time.
Sleeping Beauty was Disney's first classic showcase for the Blu-ray format, and boy did it impress. I was curious just how well an older film such as Pinocchio would be treated, and I've gotta say, it's absolutely brilliant.
The 1080p AVC encode is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio, and I couldn't be happier with the transfer. There are absolutely no signs of EE throughout the entirety of the film, and there are no digital artifacts to complain about. Disney has always provided the best in their home video department, so that's not really a surprise, is it? The question is, just how nice does the restoration for Pinocchio look?
Just like Sleeping Beauty before it, Pinocchio shows impressively bold colors no matter where you look. The colors on all the characters and moving objects have been retouched to look as if the cells were placed over the backdrops just yesterday. The color palette is lush, and there's an incredible contrast to make it all stick out that much more.
Those of you who have not had the opportunity to see Sleeping Beauty on Blu-ray, may worry that this method could have scrubbed away its nostalgic charm through retouching efforts, but the nostalgic look is still there. The backgrounds are still as rustic as they've always looked, but the detail is much more pronounced than it's ever been. The obviously hand drawn artwork, such as during the peak of the Monstro the Whale scenes, are still presented in their original form. They look cleaner because there's no digital noise in the swarm of drawn lines that can be seen, but they don't look as if a single bit of detail had been scrubbed away.
To put it bluntly, it almost felt like I was watching Pinocchio for the first time. Even if I had the ability to go back in time and watch this film during its initial run in theaters, I'm not even sure it could look as good and natural as it does on this Blu-ray. Hands down, Disney has done it once again, and they've shown that they're going to remain consistent in the restorative process of the classic films from their vault. The DVD looks very good, but there's no way it's able to stand up to the muster of the Blu-ray. If you have the ability to play Blu-ray discs at home, there's no reason to not spend the extra money. It's a must for any Disney fan.
The first and seemingly defaulted option for this Blu-ray is a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. It sounds pretty nice and all, but it isn't needed in the least. The dialogue remains up front, but there's hardly anything being thrown at the rear or sub channels. Not even the Monstro the Whale scenes offer up any surround worth mentioning.
I'm perfectly happy knowing that Disney didn't try to butcher the original track to make it sound unnaturally dimensional, but when the restored original Mono track is offered, why offer anything else? I honestly don't think audio purists, or even the little kids who could care less for that matter, are going to be fooled into thinking a 7.1 lossless track is going to be worth their time. The only real benefit to the additional channels would be through the musical score, which fills fairly well, and offers a bit more dynamically. Based on the presentation of the original intent of the film, this track sounds very nice indeed, practically flawless. It was just a bit much.
The restored Dolby Digital Mono 1.0 track isn't lossless, but it sounds fantastic. The dialogue is crisp and clear, and so is the musical score. If you want the true experience that was provided for the film based on the technology at the time, then this is the track you want.
In the end, it's all going to be based on your personal preference. If you decide to go with the 7.1 DTS track, you're going to get a fairly faithful representation of the film. If you go with the Mono, then you're going to get as faithful a presentation as there ever was. Either way, Pinocchio sounds better than ever, and Disney proves once again they still know how to actually treat some of their older properties.
The first thing you'll notice is the ability to watch Pinocchio in a variety of ways. You can watch the film in its original 4:3 aspect ratio with black bars on the side of your screen, which is the way most die-hard film buffs are going to go.
There's also Disney View, which is a fairly obnoxious feature that's meant for people that can't stand to have empty space on their screens at all. Artwork has been added to the sides to accompany each scene in the film, and although it's a nice effort, this can be pretty distracting. The artwork itself fits the scenes they accompany very well, but they look like they're covering up portions of the film that were never there to begin with. When the scenes move, they don't. They're just stationary, and can be a bother at any given moment.
There's also Cine-Explore, which gives a Picture-in-Picture presentation of the commentary with Leonard Maltin, Eric Goldberg and J.B. Kaufman. The audio commentary can be listened to on its own, and it's fairly entertaining as well. The information keeps rollin' right along, and there's a great deal of insight about the film itself. However, the Cine-Explore experience is undoubtedly the way to go, as there's plenty of still shots, storyboards, and more to gaze at. It's always nice to have visual aids to go with what people are talking about, and Blu-ray has fortunately made this a reality.
Music and More
The supposed shining star in this section of the extras would have to be the Disney Song Selection. It's a way for you to sit down and enjoy your favorite songs from the film without having to skip through, but the dominant feature is a karaoke sing-along.
Also included in this section is a music video for When You Wish Upon a Star, as sung by Meaghan Jette Martin. I know singers from Disney products as of late are popular with kids and all, but do the 'here today, gone tomorrow' artists under Disney really have to leave such a horrid stamp on such a beloved classic?
Games and Activities
Presented as another way to watch the film, Pinocchio's Matter of Facts is a factual pop-up feature that works throughout the film itself. It's an interesting activity for die-hard fans who have seen the movie numerous times, and want to see if there's anything they don't already know.
Pinocchio Knows Trivia Challenge takes the factual trivia pop-up feature to the next obvious step, and allows you to answer questions about the film in the form of a game.
No Strings Attached - The Making of Pinocchio - This featurette is actually almost an hour in length, and is one that's not to be missed. There are plenty of interviews with behind-the-scenes Disney people, as well as movie critics and historians. This featurette will discuss everything about the film, such as some of the earlier conceptual ideas Disney himself had about the little wooden puppet, both in behavioral tweaks and design. You'll see lots of early art, as well as primitive animatics. This is highly informational, and the wealth of information is easy to swallow. This is a must see for die-hard and casual fans of Pinocchio alike.
Deleted Scenes/Alternate Ending - Three scenes in total are presented in a storyboard format. The visual work may be primitive, but each scene is accompanied with voice work as well as music. We know that deleted scenes and alternate endings have been brought to life through the DVD format, but it's truly a treasure to see such work seven decades after the fact!
The Sweatbox - This featurette takes early storyboard art, and mixes them with a re-enactment of Walt Disney giving some suggestions after screening pieces of the film in their most primitive form. It's a technique that's still commonly used today, as any given scene can be brought to life with a little imagination, and if any changes need to be made, they can be done without wasting a ton of money. To top it all off, there are some interview clips with modern day Disney artists to fill us in on the process.
Live Action Reference Footage - Filmed footage was used as a stepping stone for the movements we see in classic Disney films. It's an interesting process that shows how much care went into a film such as Pinocchio, and as the hand drawn animation of today continually seems to decrease in quality and style, is certainly an art that's sorely missed. This is yet another featurette that everyone should check out.
Pinocchio Art Galleries - Any sort of still image that was used for the film, such as storyboards, production stills, live action photographs and more, is all here in this expansive gallery.
Publicity - This features the trailers for the original theatrical opening for the film, as well as its rereleases.
Deleted Song - Honest John - Although 'Honest John' was the character that first tested Pinocchio's ability to choose right from wrong, he wasn't an integral enough character to deserve another song in the film. It's easy to see why this song didn't make the cut, but is at long last available to those in a primitive form that combines storyboard art and music, just like the deleted scenes and alternate ending. A must for any fan.
Geppetto's Then and Now - This featurette isn't directly related to the film itself, but gives a brief history on toy making throughout history. If you've ever heard anyone say, "They don't make 'em like they used to!", now you'll know what they're talking about!
Games and Activities
More games of a simple nature appear on the second disc, the first being Pinocchio's Puzzles. The puzzles are really only mildly entertaining, even to a child. My nine year old brother-in-law had no interest in partaking in this. Heck, he didn't even want to play Pleasure Island Carnival Games. Playing through a few silly carnival games is a bit better than piecing together a simple puzzle, but the kids of today are growing up with much better technology available in flash games online!
The third disc on this release is the standard definition DVD, and unlike the Sleeping Beauty DVD that was slapped onto the back of the Blu-ray package, this disc is actually housed within the Blu-ray package itself on its own hub. This could be a blessing or a disaster, depending on who you are. If you use the DVD Disney packages with its Blu-rays for the kids, you may prefer the cardboard sleeve so your kids aren't popping your Blu-rays out of place. Without any kids to worry about myself however, I find the inclusion of the DVD inside the Blu-ray case to be a welcome change.
As we've come to expect from Disney, there's a pretty generous mix of special features that range in appeal from children to adults. Although the kids activities are usually throw away material in my opinion, I can't blame Disney for trying to tack on any bell or whistle that might gain some attention from a little one. The rest of the features are entertaining and educational, and once again shows Disney knows how to put out a great home video release.
Pinocchio is an integral part to the history of animation. Sure, it may have been the second animated full length feature behind Snow White, but people were still skeptical about a cartoon keeping the audience hooked throughout a feature length effort. If Pinocchio was a failure, it would have been just as devastating to the company, and animation, as Snow White would have been if it hadn't been percieved positively.
Fortunately, Pinocchio was not just a classic in its own time, it ultimately earned the right to be considered a timeless piece of art. We're able to take a treacherous journey through greed, corruption, and danger right up until the film reaches its heartwarming conclusion, and without a pacing hiccup to boot. If you're not familiar with Pinocchio as of yet, you're definitely missing out on a milestone in cinematic history.
With a Blu-ray release that makes the film look and sound better than it undoubtedly ever has, as well as enough extras to keep any Disney fan boy happy, Pinocchio's high definition debut is one that definitely earns the rare DVD Talk Collector Series rating, so what are you waiting for?
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!