Walt Disney Productions (February 17 1940), Walt Disney Home Entertainment (January 31 2017), Blu-ray plus DVD, 88 mins plus supplements, 1080p high-definition 1.37:1 original aspect ratio, DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio plus restored original mono soundtrack, Rated G, Retail: $39.99
Walt Disney’s brilliant take on Carlo Collodi’s story about a little wooden puppet’s adventures through right and wrong as he attempts to make good in order to be granted his wish of becoming a real, live boy, gets the reissue Signature Collection treatment.
The Sweatbox Review:
When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true, or so the song goes, and with this latest addition to the Walt Disney Signature Collection, it does seem that my initial hope with this line has come true, for the moment anyhow. Debuting with a rather underpowered reissue of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs a couple of years ago, in an obscure release window that didn’t celebrate any kind of anniversary milestone, I had suggested that this otherwise fairly redundant line might be a decent way for the Studio to revisit the films that Walt himself produced with a chronological approach, finally allowing for the rest of those still missing-in-action 1940s Package Features to make their long-awaited HD disc showings.
Snow White, by rights, should have been followed up by Walt’s second feature, Pinocchio, but that it wasn’t confirmed that we weren’t going to get such a unique collection after all and that, even less enticingly, the Signature moniker was just the latest name in branding for these films on home video, following years of Classics, Masterpieces, Gold, Platinum and Diamond cycles of the same titles. So it’s rather pleasing that, following last year’s “blip” of a 25th anniversary return for Beauty And The Beast (already its third showing on Blu-ray and even then mostly chosen to highlight the imminent live-action retelling), the Signatures appear to be back on track – if a chronological series is to transpire (and…please…let’s hope it is!).
Often cited as one of Walt’s greatest marvels, Pinocchio is a wonderfully lush film, rich in color, depth and inventiveness, although paradoxically it’s never been a huge seller on home video. It’s unfortunately become almost the “sacrificial lamb” of the Golden Age features, often put out on new video formats as a well-known title to test the waters. It debuted on both home video (at a cost not that much cheaper than a rental cassette) and DVD (as part of the Limited Issue series of barebones discs) and didn’t sell, mostly due to over pricing and bad marketing, which Disney of course didn’t accept at the time, choosing to believe that it was just not that much of a popular title. Indeed, even a deluxe 1990s LaserDisc set – routinely lavish affairs that still contain more material than has ever appeared on DVD – wasn’t as quite well supported in the extras department as some of the other, more prominent titles.
It wasn’t really until Pinocchio was reappraised as a Platinum Edition Blu-ray more than a decade ago that Disney finally seemed to push the boat out and treat the film as good as its many fans and noted historians had been saying it was all along, though it still wasn’t the all-encompassing edition diehards had hoped for and a later Diamond reissue that had been announced never actually materialised. Which doesn’t bring great hope for us to be treated to any major new supplements this time around – if anything, Pinocchio has never been fully served in the extras department, despite lots of available material, and if this Signature line has been consistent in any single way, it’s sadly been in the dropping of more material than these reissues have been adding to, but more on all that below…
A popular misconception is that Walt waited until his first feature picture had proven to be a wild success before embarking on a second film. At the time of Snow White’s release, no less than five of the early features were in various states of development, with Pinocchio the closest to completion. Even so, story changes and improvements held back the film for almost three further years, and on its eventual debut in 1940, the film suffered from what might be called that popularly coined term, “difficult second album syndrome”. The critics had been out to get Walt during Snow White’s production, with many of them eating their words when the 1937 movie proved a phenomenal achievement: Walt’s audiences had shown they would sit through “an hour and a half’s worth of cartoons”, and now he would really give them something to sit through!
With practically all films of the era still shot in black and white, Disney’s animated features provided something very special indeed: entertainment and color, but Walt wanted Pinocchio to be so much more. As such, it’s a deeply improved film over its predecessor in virtually every way and on every level. The story, much changed from Collodi’s book, most notably retaining Pinocchio’s conscience Jiminy Cricket, who originally got squished early on, is a darker, more ominously toned account than the fairytale of Snow White, and it is matched by some immensely impressive visuals, which remain perhaps even more so remarkable today in that not a single frame was created electronically. Characters move with individually colored ink lines, the Multiplane Camera’s usage is almost evident in every shot, and Walt’s artists are simply playing at the very top of their game, striving for a groundbreaking new level of sophistication and fully delivering based on their achievements and confidence from their previous outing.
Although originally based in Italy, Gustaf Tenggren’s production design transports the story amazingly authentically to a general European setting, mostly inspired by German architecture. Partly because we are so used to seeing it in Disney’s films and partly because we will have grown up with these images of Pinocchio in our mind, this is never jarring, perfectly suiting the tale of the little wooden boy who wishes above all to be real. Likewise, the encounters with the characters he meets along his journey in proving himself worthy are just as fantastical: “Honest John” Worthington Fowlfellow is a fox, while his associate is Gideon, a cat, though again their presence as walking and talking animals is never questioned, being that we recognise that these are stereotypes. Later, Pinocchio will literally see the implications of behaving like a jackass, under the terrifying eye of The Coachman, one of Disney’s most dangerous villains and certainly one that makes more of an impact than Stromboli, even if that cruel puppeteer gets more screen time and outside credit thanks to the I’ve Got No Strings song sequence that remains one of Pinocchio’s most quoted moments.
This song is one of many truly astonishing melodies in a score that is as rich as they come. The composers had worked wonders on Snow White, providing themes for the major characters that fed from the songs that would be associated with them (indeed, Snow White has the distinction of being the first motion picture soundtrack released, in an album of 78rpm records), but in Pinocchio the broad strokes of Ned Washington, Leigh Harline and Paul Smith have been much refined: each scene has its own referencing of an appropriate musical motif, working into new phrases that compliment even the briefest of moments. It’s a musical tradition that the Disney Studio was rightfully praised for, and one that continued through the Golden Age of 1930s and early 1940s Hollywood filmmaking until the likes of John Williams brought it back to the fore in his music for Jaws and, especially, the original Star Wars in 1977.
Indeed, Williams is clearly a Pinocchio fan: listen to the strains of score that accompany Monstro the whale’s awakening, a two-note theme that becomes faster and more immediate as he approaches, and see if you can’t picture a certain great white shark in his place instead. Lest we forget, Williams also used the movie’s signature theme, When You Wish Upon A Star, during his score for Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Even by that time, the song had become synonymous with Walt’s brand of magic: the Disneyland Band played it in tribute to him on that fateful evening of December 15 1966. Pinocchio itself naturally has a supporter in Close Encounters’ director Steven Spielberg, a confessed Disney devotee, and who has often cited this film as a lasting influence. It’s no coincidence that the Spielberg-written film gives Close Encounters’ lead character Pinocchio as his favorite movie.
As such, Pinocchio is a classic film from an era when there were a great deal of classic films being produced. I’ve always thought about it as an animated Citizen Kane: a movie that didn’t get too much recognition when it was first released (interestingly within in the same timeframe, or near enough, to Walt’s epic), but a film so staggeringly groundbreaking and ahead of its time that it took a good few years for the rest of the audience to catch up. Of course, opening at a time when most of the world was then embroiled in a major war, closing off many of the foreign markets that were vastly important to Walt’s films, didn’t help, as was the fact that this dark and often foreboding tale didn’t offer much in the way of the bright escapism that the later Dumbo would offer as a way to take minds away from those growing threats.
Although the perceived failure of the film at the box office did harm Walt’s ability to splash quite so much cash on the films that would follow, Pinocchio is a tour de force of the Golden Age Walt Disney Studio running every department at top notch fever pitch; it’s an absolute triumph of animation, color design, lighting, music, vocal performances (Pinocchio’s Dickie Jones’ reading of the line “…and I’m…I’m real” is as sledgehammer powerful as they come), editing, special effects and directing, an artistic achievement that remains surprisingly contemporary. Sure, it’s got a sometimes jaunty 1940s feel to it, but there are also the many intricate layers that announce Pinocchio as nothing short of a one off: importantly the most technically and creatively accomplished hand-drawn, non-computer assisted full-length animated feature film ever created.
Is This Thing Loaded?
As already noted, previous editions of Pinocchio on home video and various disc incarnations have never truly reached deep into the archives to present a genuinely definitive edition, and there’s no reason to think that the so-far so-predictable supplements-lite Signature Collection series will be much different.
The Platnum Blu-ray came close, not least with the immersive picture-in-picture Cine-Explore option, which I suggested was worthy of making the jump from DVD to Blu-ray for in itself, but is so unfortunately missing here, leaving us only with the redundant, but thankfully optional, Disney View screen adornments by Disney Art Editions artist Toby Bluth, who provides themed side panelling that fills in the usually black side bars of the Academy ratio feature on 16:9 displays. I’ve explained my consternation with this formatting before: long time viewers of 2.35:1 movies on VHS may well recall when those films had their tops and bottoms, as it were, filled in with themed imagey, and I well remember the credits of many a movie playing out in widescreen with usually garish block colors filling in for the blacked out letterboxed bars, sometimes with fanciful designs: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Dark Crystal are two titles I endured with such inappropriate designs that detracted from the movie.
My feelings on Disney View haven’t changed since: quite why anyone would want to detract from the beauty of the original film is beyond me, and although Bluth’s paintings are in keeping with the design of the film, they call attention to themselves with their contrasting coloring and inactive framing, and merely fading in and out in a cycle of around 16 images (usually changing from scene to scene) somewhat takes away the point. I guess Disney has paid for these and may as well repeat them (to the detriment of the Cine-Explore feature) than not, but while the lighting effects used to alter the brightness in keeping with the scene moods has at least been done well enough, and this as good as way as any of retaining the recently passed Bluth’s work, it’s still just a bit disconcerting to have such static pieces of artwork hanging on the side of the image, and one would have thought we’re all used to multiple ratios these days and would care to simply watch the film as intended.
The Pinocchio Project: When You Wish Upon A Star (5:52) features JR Aquino, Tanner Patrick and Alex G’s new recording of the iconic Disney theme by way of two clips: The Project, which peeks behind the scenes, and The Video, which shows the final result. It’s a rather smooth version of the song, whose backing track reminded me of Phil Collins’ I’ll Be In Your Heart from Tarzan, even if it amounts to little more than yet another over-soulful recording to add to the hundreds of this song that already exist, and really only fulfills the need to add another entry in the bonus features listing on the back of the box.
More authentically connected to the film itself, and pulling this film into the Signature Collection proper, Walt’s Story Meetings: Pleasure Island (7:14) discusses what was originally known as the “Boobyland Sequence”, a name that might conjure up various images that could serve a film more along the lines of a Sausage Party, or the like, very well…although I think we can all be thankful that this was eventually changed. Recreating Walt and his artists’ transcripts and paired with original story art, along with remarks from Pixar director Pete Doctor and Pinocchio: The Making Of The Disney Epic author JB Kaufman, the sequence doesn’t differentiate too wildly from the final film, although a proposed song would have provided a musical number later in the film, instead of how it stands now when, after I’ve Got No Strings, it becomes a straight adventure drama.
In Walt’s Words: Pinocchio (4:48) continues along the same lines, utilising portions from the oft-sampled and extensively in-depth interviews that Walt gave in the mid-1950s, coupled with Studio archive material. While not always Pinocchio-specific, the visuals help to tie Walt’s comments to the movie’s era, and it’s fun to hear the man himself tell a well-known anecdote, even if the option of subtitles is very welcome given the sometimes dip in audiotape quality.
Most exciting to the Studio’s fans will be the inclusion of Oswald The Lucky Rabbit in Poor Papa (5:19), the very first in the series produced and a long-thought lost cartoon that was recently discovered and restored in collaboration with the British Film Institute. Unlike a previously renewed Oswald cartoon that only appeared as a digital extra with the release of the Snow White Signature set, this one comes right on the disc itself, and although the source doesn’t allow for the sharpest of restorations, the level of quality approaching a pristine result is impressive and this charming little short is approaching 90 years of age! Nevertheless, it’s still a revelation, showing the young Walt off at his inventive cartoon best and setting up several gags (the storks delivering countless babies down the chimney and characters slipping around on a cake of soap among them) that would recur for the likes of Mickey, Donald, Pluto and Dopey in years to follow.
Despite its age, it still feels fresh (some “movie night” fans who appreciate a vintage gem might wish to pair it with a showing of Warner Animation’s recent Storks and see which gets the most laughs!) and bringing further life to the originally silent cartoon is Mark Watters’ new orchestral score, not only lively and energetic but absolutely wonderfully timed and synchronized to the movement so as to make us appreciate both the sound and image even more. Subtle actions (such as piano notes struck perfectly in rhythm) are highlighted by Watters, a long-time Studio associate who most recently scored the Mickey throwback Get A Horse! and brings a Bruce Broughton sensibility to the music, recalling Carl Stalling’s early work for Walt in style as well as the quoting of popular music to underscore a point. Who’d have thought we’d get an Apocalypse Now reference in a 1928 Disney cartoon!? Well, we do here, and it works not only fantastically well in its timing, but in its additional amusement value. Even if a complete lack of context means Oswald’s debut feels a little arbitrarily thrown in to the unconnected Pinocchio, this is great, great stuff!
This almost scant twenty to twenty-five minutes of “new” material is it for Pinocchio‘s Signature set, so it’s down to some “Classic Bonus Content” to somewhat save the day, even if this selection doesn’t delve as deep as much as we’d like. Repeated from the Platinum BD is the No Strings Attached: The Making Of Pinocchio documentary, an inaccurate title actually, given the ever changing production, which was shut down at one point. Nevertheless, this 56 minute piece is as good as they come, and does a decent job of providing a Pinocchio production overview. Leonard Maltin, Kaufman and, especially, the always enchanting Brian Sibley pop up as jovial historians, as do a number of next generation Disney artists and fans of the movie, including Eric Goldberg, Don Hahn and Andreas Deja, as well as archive interviews with the original artists. Following the film through production, from Collodi’s story and the changes Disney and his crew made, to its original release, reception and legacy, No Strings Attached is everything one might expect, though it comes with a little detachment itself, in its lack of true first-hand accounts, and quickly turns into a series of talking heads. The result is something that, although the information is all of strong substance, still feels rather routine, dry and disjointed, lurching from subject to subject.
A selection of Deleted Scenes, which run over ten minutes in a Play All option with an Introduction, include a lovely early scene where we find out about The Story Of The Grandfather Tree from which Geppetto cut the wood in order to fashion Pinocchio himself, a different version of the Monstro-trapped Geppetto being held In The Belly Of The Whale, and a Alternate Ending that has Pinocchio’s wish coming true in a simpler, not as effective way. Using original storyboard art with new recordings, narration and score music from the film, the Grandfather Tree sequence especially features some very nice concepts within it, and the Monstro scene some fun diversions, though Walt was of course right to cut them as it would have thrown the pacing of the film off in all instances.
Filling in a little context for a Disney innovation mentioned in the Story Meetings clip above, The Sweatbox (6:25) takes a look at the legendary gatherings of groups of animators who would check over their work in the cramped Studio screening room, so hot (especially with Walt in the room ready to critique!) as to become known as…well, you can guess. The recreations of these sessions are in keeping with similar reconstructions we’ve seen previously on other discs, and very nicely and unobtrusively they are done too. At first glance, one might find the tenuously linked Geppettos Then And Now featurette, a “look at the craft of making toys” from the carved wooden figures of old to today’s mass production, a disappointing recycling of eleven minutes of filler, but the various stories and charm of the real toymakers shows the considerable skills still being used by craftspeople all over the world, even if the inevitable bit of Disney marketing can’t but help slip in by way of the sophisticated Ultimate WALL-E “robot”. Although far from redundant, this is still something of a surprising inclusion, considering the amount of good to great archival material that could have graced this set.
Running ten minutes, a look at the Live-Action Reference Footage is pure gold: black and white fragments shot at the time of production that visually describes how the Studio created and used their live-action shoots as a tool in delivering believable animation to the screen. From small props to bigger sets and Ham Luske’s directing of a Jiminy Cricket stand-in for an early scene in the film, this is never before seen material that real buffs will adore seeing again or for the first time, and the mix of new narration and musical score compliments the footage nicely so as to be a unique look at a side of Studio life rarely glimpsed, especially in actual live film footage, so it’s pretty awesome stuff!
A Publicity section brings back a series of three Theatrical Trailers, often seen in other editions but welcome again here even if they feel a little like token gestures, from the original two minute 1940 preview to two reissues in 1984 and 1992 (in letterboxed widescreen, cropping picture information from top and bottom) lasting 90 seconds each and all very representational of their times, although it’s a shame that none of the publicity posters or any other kind of art galleries have been carried over as well. Promotional in nature after a fashion, I had hoped to never again have to witness the When You Wish Upon A Star music video by Disney moppet Meaghan Jette Martin, but here it is in all its truly crap glory. Produced as a pop-dance number, I understand the marketing behind creating a clip like this that can play on TV and promote the product but, really, I expect most would much prefer more original archive material than this comatose muddle of a mess, in which the poor girl’s vocals have been Vocoder-ized flat and lifeless, with the video itself boring too, looking like it was shot by an amateur and only saved by a savvy editor, without any merit or production gloss. Ugh!
For a moment, I thought that the producers of this disc had actually done the unthinkable and returned to a much earlier 1993 LaserDisc edition of the film to present an alternate documentary featurette created for that release but, alas, A Wish Come True: The Making Of Pinocchio (5:06) actually turns out to be an electronic press kit clip from around 2000 that I don’t believe has made it to disc before. While there are negligible tidbits of info here, or a brief glimpse of interview snippets there, this doesn’t really bring anything substantial to this release, merely covering the production in a bite-sized snapshot. Also potentially from the LaserDisc, although it may have been a different moment, is a Storyboard To Film Final Comparison (4:04) clip for the Little Wooden Head sequence, although all we get here is the “before and after” without the option to view the storyboards up close.
Finally, Maltin, Goldberg and Kaufman, author of the previously mentioned now-default tome on the making of the film, sit for the still-engrossing Audio Commentary, even if it has been shorn of its Cine-Explore visual accompaniments. Commentary tracks produced long after the fact by historians can often be labored, lethargic and overly studious affairs, no matter how interesting, but with Maltin on board you’re always going to get an accessible though no less geek-packed treat, and he doesn’t disappoint here. Best of all, and something of a tradition on these vintage releases, are the audio snippets from the archives so that we can authentically hear from Walt himself, and animators Ward Kimball, Eric Larson, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Ken Anderson and Woolie Reitherman, with topics ranging from the success of Snow White, the character designs and story angles. This truly is an excellent track, with Maltin especially geeking out over tidbits including naming the vocal artists and continually placing various subjects in context. Infectious and exceptional.
Sneak Peeks at the top of the disc and in their own menus option include the teaser (again) for the imminent Beauty And The Beast live-action makeover, current theatrical wonder Moana, Disneynature’s latest, Born In China, and a handful of Disney Channel and Movie Rewards spots.
As with the Platinum and Diamond Editions before them, this still relatively new Signature Collection has been as notable for the material that’s been dropped as much as for what they offer, and Pinocchio’s chance to shine is no exception, the main dimming of its lights down to a continuing lack of involvement from its breakout character Jiminy Cricket. For a time second only to Mickey Mouse (and later Tinkerbell), Jiminy became a prominent figurehead mascot for the Disney Studio, a master of ceremonies of sorts who popped up in another feature, Fun And Fancy Free (singing a song originally intended for Pinocchio), and a variety of radio specials and television programs, most visibly hosting the I’m No Fool… and You… series of somewhat educationally entertaining animated shorts seen in theaters and on The Mickey Mouse Club. For the third of Pinocchio‘s most recent videodisc releases, my big question simply remains: where are these cartoons?
One could argue that they may be better suited to a long-ago rumored educational selection in the Walt Disney Treasures line that never came, but those releases are a long time ago now and this Signature disc has missed a golden opportunity to really give us something “new” and rarely seen – heck, with all the special appearances Jiminy has made in various Disney programs, such as the famed From All Of Us To All Of You Christmas show, the Cricket deserves his own boxed set! Nevertheless, the still missing six I’m No Fool… and seven You… films are a lamentable loss (even more so when a token few showed up on a previous European DVD edition and a 35mm bootleg featured some as extras), as are, one could argue, the handful of Figaro cartoons in which Geppetto’s cat starred with Cleo, Minnie Mouse and Pluto. At the very least, we should have been offered a retrospective featurette on these Pinocchio characters’ extended appearances, especially considering Jiminy’s Disney career and his importance as a master of ceremonies.
A few frivolous elements from the Platinum Blu-ray are less missed: a trivia track was fairly redundant given the information from the commentary participants and actually full of inaccuracies, while a handful of games (the Pinocchio Knows challenge, a BD-Live virtual living room, the simple but lovingly designed Pinocchio’s Puzzles and Pleasure Island Carnival Games) weren’t really that much fun to begin with. Much more of a loss is the extensive collection of Pinocchio Art Galleries, running through everything from Visual Development to Production Pictures but unfortunately missing any publicity shots or posters among the hundreds of images, although some of the “stills” were actually video turnarounds of the maquettes…a nice touch. Many of these images made it into the already mentioned Cine-Explore, probably this disc’s most obvious – and most disappointing – omission. Also going further in a section touched on in this Signature release, the Deleted Song Honest John, cut from the film or replaced with An Actor’s Life For Me was presented from a 1947 promotional recording and so could easily have been featured here instead of a couple of the more obvious redundant options.
Of all the previously made and released documentaries to reference Pinocchio‘s production and filmmaking advances, Disney Animation: The Illusion Of Life, from the early 1980s and based on Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston’s legendary bible on their craft, extensively interviewed the pair for this two-part television special that delved into the pages of that book to show the moving examples they described. Although the special, hosted by Hayley Mills, was jointly created to help promote the book and the Studio’s then current release The Fox And The Hound (indeed it would also be a natural companion to that film in a decent disc edition too), the amount of Pinocchio material and discussion should have seen, if not the entire special, then at least those specific segments included in a definitive Pinocchio disc release.
As such, it’s something of a poor show that the true fan’s Pinocchio of choice, as far as supplements go, remains the wonderfully deluxe LaserDisc edition that collectors cherished back at the end of 1993. That package, coming in a bright red, faux-leather effect box with much foil embossed detail, is still hard to beat, easily besting the no-frills limited edition DVD released in the US and even the half-hearted special edition DVDs released internationally. Yep, that LaserDisc set was something special: the film cleaned up and presented as its centerpiece, plus an entire supplemental materials disc in its own sleeve, as well as a deluxe 20-page book, which read as a cut down of the Hyperion “Art Of…” books and, most welcome, a fully restored CD of the film’s original soundtrack, housed in the packaging itself, complete with themed cover artwork and an exclusive lithograph, which the company often included in their laser sets before they became a popular bargaining chip in the DVD pre-order stakes.
From this LaserDisc, the book and lithograph are understandable omissions due to size, and the soundtrack is probably more valuable as its own product (indeed, a Walt Disney Records Legacy Collection release last year even included some of the Jiminy Cricket shorts’ songs), but the LD’s original 22-minute documentary remains an interesting curio: oddly padded out and, for some reason, hosted by a very excitable Robby (Beauty And The Beast) Benson, the light information provided is either covered in some way here (Kimball’s explanation on how Pinocchio’s co-star went from Cricket to Jiminy for instance) or in more detail, though Benson hosts from a wonderful set reconstruction of a scene from the movie and even as a product of its time it’s still a fascinating production document.
The rest of the LD supplements have mostly been carried over, though included there but not here are further conceptual drawings and publicity materials including posters, newspaper clippings, and the entire Pinocchio comic strip from 1940 in still frame form, which provided an evening’s worth of entertainment on its own! For those who missed out on the previous Blu-ray, this Signature disc is naturally a huge upgrade over the barebones Limited Issue DVD, which came with no bonus other than a theatrical re-issue trailer, and the standard Platinum disc, although once again this is another light Signature Collection addition that, as much as it delights with what has been included, disappoints with what it has left out.
With Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs setting up the “plain and simple” style to the Walt Disney Signature Collection – itself seemingly drawn from the design approach given to the last reissue of (the non-Signature, yet) Sleeping Beauty – with a matt white background and primary character closeup imagery, second entry Beauty And The Beast came along and upset the consistency with a super-glossy slipcover that could potentially burn the eyes when captured under the right light! So it’s nice to see that the third title in this line, and more appropriately Walt’s second feature following up to Snow White, brings back the original Signature ethos and class.
It’s not the catchiest Pinocchio we’ve ever had, but it does distinguish the Signature titles from previous releases, if nothing else, although the sleeve text suggests this is a much more prestigious and “celebrated” line than anyone might have been made aware of, and a Fresh Tomatoes endorsement on the 77-year old film smacks of either desperation to make it more relevant or the equivalent of suggesting the likes of Citizen Kane or The Godfather Part II are just “meh”! The DVD Guides of Platinum and Diamond Editions are long since gone, with only a Movie Rewards code (good also for a Digital HD download) and Movie Club inserts to keep the discs, including a DVD copy, company. Elegant and classy, let’s hope the clean and clear approach continues.
Ink And Paint:
We can argue over colors to the end of time…the truth is that no-one knows what Pinocchio looked like on original release…and I doubt it even looked as good as Walt would have preferred back then. All we’ve seen over the years are dupe prints and video cleanups: nothing that would truly indicate how Pinocchio was ever intended to look and certainly not anything to base our criticisms of the achievements made here. Obviously the Lowry Digital Image restorations haven’t always been appropriate: say what you like about how the original artwork looked, but Cinderella and Peter Pan were never intended to look as bright and color saturated as their later direct to video spin-offs. Luckily, we’ve never had to endure a Pinocchio II: Stromboli’s Revenge and so a little more care with the source material seems to have been in order, especially considering Pinocchio’s stature in the animated film pantheon. As such, this presentation is the same restoration as the 70th anniversary Platinum Blu-ray, pleasingly retaining the original 1940 RKO credits: no new Disney Castle or Steamboat Willie animation logo additions have been made.
If anything, though, the absolutely rock steady nature of these title cards reveal the biggest flaw in Pinocchio’s makeover – there is still an absolute lack of life in any of the frames you’d care to pick. Sure, the animation is vibrant and wonderful as ever, but the digitising and removal of all grain, cel scuffs and gate weave mean this is a very clinical image overall…it looks great, but feels like the life and energy has been sucked dry, with only the cel painting and background paper texture giving away the fact that this isn’t a digitally colored picture. Even then, modern “tradigital” animation and CGI, when the camera comes to a stop, has more life to each frame thanks to the overlying grain that ties all the elements together; here everything is so perfectly preserved that, while we might feel like we can reach out and touch the artwork (“pretty as a picture!”), the absolutely pristine nature has also taken away some of the vintage, the process and the hand-crafted qualities that went into the animated films of that age. Nevertheless, any additional DVNR is thankfully absent, so this is as close as we’re likely to get to witnessing a “first generation” representation of this artwork and it feels as pure as can be achieved.
Although the original mono theatrical soundtrack is pleasantly preserved, Pinocchio was also given the Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix treatment for the Platinum set and it’s the same mono and DTS 7.1 tracks we get on this disc. Pinocchio comes from a time when the elements just aren’t there to create a truly satisfying surround experience, but the re-recording wizards have still pulled off some minor miracles here, the results really being to reduce much of the background noise and put a little spread on the music and spot effects. There is a discernable difference between the original and spruced up surrounds, especially in the opening credits where Cliff Edwards may as well be sitting next to you as he sings, but it’s more a case of dynamics and spatial awareness than a modern bells and whistles onslaught – and that’s just as it should be, without any new effects finding their way into the mix.
What these multitrack mixes do is deliver a vintage soundtrack to today’s speaker setups without trouncing on the original: indeed, I’ve always found Disney’s soundtracks to be leaps and bounds above the average anyway, and real purists will find that the original theatrical track, restored to remove pops, clicks and any distortion, sounds just as good too. To varying degrees of dynamism, French and Spanish dubs are bundled in, with subtitles in all three languages available. Best of all, it seems the missing lines of Jiminy Cricket’s dialogue have been fixed here: I still didn’t catch “come on, boys, break it up, break it up”, but the lines previously muted from Give A Little Whistle are clearly there and I would suppose any other anomalies have been fixed too, making this the definitive home video version of the film itself.
Something of a strange lack of coherency has marred these Signature Collection releases so far, as if the basic remit has been to reuse an existing film transfer, fill the remaining disc space with a “best fit” of previously available material, and drop other footage so as to leave enough room for some half-heartedly compiled clips only really included so as to feature a certain number of “New!” bullet points on the back of the case. Indeed, these titles do seem to be the last hurrah for classic Disney animation on the Blu-ray physical media format, and only a slight step up from the vanilla discs the company is slowly issuing of its vintage live-action catalog to its Movie Club Exclusives line. My only hope remains that the Signature Collection will continue in a chronological journey through Walt’s films and that we eventually see the 1940s Package Features released at all on the format – here’s hoping, even if they’re only Movie Club titles. As such, there’s again little for fans to really get engaged with in this Pinocchio redo, other than a repeat for the terrific commentary and a fairly good documentary, which did their best to cover up the fact that there just wasnt much else on the original Platinum set and even less of real worth here. But that commentary is missing its visual counterpart and, while it may be true that the Oswald cartoon is a highlight, it also feels thrown in more than a little randomly.
For those without Pinocchio on Blu-ray at all, the film has never looked better. For those huge fans still wishing on a star for a definitive release, well maybe our dreams will come true next time around. But the importance of Pinocchio itself in the Disney line-up cannot be underestimated: despite Mickey giving the company a face and the fairytale castles providing a logo, it’s Pinocchio’s ideals that grants Disney its soul, the film’s signature song When You Wish Upon A Star encompassing and promoting Walt’s company’s very identity. If for this reason alone it would be worth finding out what all the fuss was about, but Pinocchio is also so much more; it’s a film that continues to amaze, inspire and influence each successive generation of artists and audiences. It contains great instants of hand-crafted beauty, many jolly aural delights and a real sense of exciting danger, while not forgetting the smaller moments, thousands of intricate touches and an innocence that belies the daring nature of the production Walt and his artists set off on all those years ago. Sure, this Signature edition misses the opportunity to give us the full package and finally provide a chance to see Jiminy and Figaro’s respective short film series, but it also perhaps serves up the definitive presentation of the film itself. If Snow White proved it could be done, Pinocchio proved that it could be done again. And better!
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?