A lonely woodcarver makes a marionette and names him Pinocchio, and wishes that the puppet was a real boy. The Blue Fairy, touched by Geppetto's goodness, brings Pinocchio to life, and tells them that if he's brave, truthful and unselfish he can become a real boy of flesh and blood. To help Pinocchio determine right from wrong, she instructs Jiminy Cricket to be his conscience. Geppetto is overjoyed when he discovers that Pinocchio is alive, and sends him off to school so he can get an education. Instead of going to class, Pinocchio meets Honest John and Gideon, who convince him to join Stromboli's puppet show as an actor. At first it's fun, but when Pinocchio tells Stromboli he needs to go home to his father, Stromboli locks him in a cage. After he's freed by the Blue Fairy, Pinocchio resolves to behave better, but he doesn't even make it home before Honest John whisks him off to Pleasure Island, a magical island where boys can do whatever they want. But although many boys arrive at Pleasure Island every day, not one ever leaves...
I approached Pinocchio with a bit of trepidation. Most of the older Disney movies I've watched - Bambi, The Sword and the Stone - seemed slow and boring. I expected Pinocchio to be the same. I was pleasantly surprised.
Pinocchio has plenty of action and adventure, as well as some of Disney's most brazenly misbehaving characters. Pinocchio's a truant and a liar. Pleasure Island is full of boys drinking, fighting, smoking and vandalizing property non-stop. According to an article in Playboy magazine from 1993, there are forty-three instances of violence and other examples of poor behavior in this film. This includes twenty-three instances of battery, nine acts of property damage, three slang uses of the word "jackass," three acts of violence involving animals, two shots of male nudity, and one instance of implied death. That's a whole lot of inappropriateness for Disney, the world's most wholesome, family-friendly company EVER. (At least, they think so.)
The music is also very catchy. "When You Wish Upon A Star" was a top-selling single when the movie was released, and is one of the most iconic Disney songs, but many of the other songs are equally memorable. "I've Got No Strings" and "Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee" both have serious earworm potential. It's funny, but the music is all concentrated in the first half of the movie. After Pinocchio heads off to Pleasure Island, the songs stop completely.
Of course, what kind of song could you sing about Monstro or The Coachman, the villains of the second half of the film? The Coachman is a scary, bad man, without a glint of humor or humanity to make him more palatable. Monstro isn't evil, exactly, but he's scary. As a little kid, I thought being swallowed by a whale was one of the scariest things that could happen to you (although apparently it was quite survivable). Seanie, being a boy, was more frightened by the fate of the boys taken to Pleasure Island. As he pointed out when we watched the film again, the boys who are turned into donkeys aren't saved. The Coachman isn't stopped. Pinocchio may get his happy ending with Geppetto, but the labor factory set in motion by The Coachman continues to transform boys into jackasses. That's seriously uncool.
The animation looks fantastic, too. It's amazing how much the studio evolved just between this film and their first one, Snow White. The wooden clocks and music boxes in Geppetto's workshop look amazing; the animators captured the jerkiness of each mechanical piece just perfectly. The underwater scene looks really good, too. I don't think anything else from that time period really matches the quality of this movie.