Geppetto (Christian Rub) is an elderly but spry German woodcutter whose output consists of elaborate clocks, music boxes, and marionettes. He has two adorable pets, Figaro the cat and Cleo the fish. He wishes that his latest work, the puppet Pinocchio, could become a real boy.
Because it is a movie, a fairy (Evelyn Venable) shows up while Geppetto is asleep, and grants Pinocchio life, though he still resembles a puppet instead of a boy. A hobo insect, Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards), is given the task of keeping Pinocchio out of trouble.
The next morning, Geppetto is elated, but sends his living puppet off to school. His path is diverted by two scoundrels, Honest John (Walter Catlett) and Gideon, who sell him to greedy puppet show producer Stromboli (Charles Judels). Pinocchio is caged, but escapes with the help of Jiminy Cricket and a timely visit from the fairy.
Pinocchio vows to be good, but mostly he is stupid, and anyway, being good makes for a dull movie. Instead, he again encounters Honest John and Gideon, who this time sell him a malevolent coachman (Charles Judels again). The coachman gathers children and takes them to Pleasure Island, where they loot, smoke, drink, and gamble until they turn into donkeys, and remain beasts of burden for the rest of their days.
Pinocchio avoids this awful fate by escaping at the last moment. He returns to Geppetto's house, only to learn that the latter (as well as Figaro and Cleo) has left to find Pinocchio, and somehow ended up in the belly of the giant whale Monstro.
Of course, Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket determine to find Monstro and rescue his maker.
How others will see it. Pinocchio was the second Disney animated feature, following the landmark success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. More Disney feature-length cartoons were in the works, including Bambi, Dumbo, and Fantasia.
Pinocchio was a costly production, much like its predecessor. Initially, it was not a commercial success, though reissues and video sales have over time multiply redeemed its cost.
It was from the beginning a critical favorite. It won Oscars for its score and "When You Wish Upon a Star", Jiminy Cricket's big number which, like "Over the Rainbow" from the prior year's The Wizard of Oz, occurs very early in the movie.
Its reputation has only improved over the years, though it wasn't added to the National Film Registry until 1994, its sixth year (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was an inaugural inductee).
Unavailable on cable or streaming, the movie must effectively be purchased to be seen. Nonetheless, the nearly octogenarian feature has a substantial 109K user votes at imdb.com. Unlike most movies directed at young audiences, the user ratings for Pinocchio rises with advancing age of the viewer, from 7.4 under age 30 to 7.8 over age 45.
As one might expect, most user reviews gush over the movie. Naysayers are very few. Some point out that none of the film's several villains are ever punished. Indeed, they are financially rewarded for their evil plots, something you don't often see in a Disney movie. After all, the wicked witch in Snow White turned into a hag, fell to her death, and was eaten by vultures. Talk about having a bad day.
How I felt about it. Despite the dull heroism of Prince Charming in Snow White, I prefer that initial effort, which I rank among the best movies ever made. Pinocchio is less spectacular, though it is still an excellent film.
The animation is wonderful, the songs are good, the characters are as charming, humorous, or menacing as they are supposed to be. The story seems a bit rushed, and gives us such odd moments as Jiminy Cricket walking about the ocean floor as if it were a grass lawn, and Geppetto fishing for haddock within the belly of a whale.
And though the movie is laced with allegory (don't lie or your nose will grow; don't be bad or you'll become a donkey), Pinocchio is so hopelessly innocent that he could never be blamed for any of his actions. He is literally hours old when he first falls into the bad company of "Honest" John.