Saturday, September 24, 2011

Got Wood?

Without a doubt Walt Disney’s Pinocchio, which followed Snow White into theaters two years later in 1940, is one of the finest, most amazing, and beloved animated films ever made, still towering over even recent animated films on a visual level. But let’s look a little deeper at some of the plot’s flaws or weirdnesses. Remember, I love this movie; this is all from affection. I love Pinocchio because he can always get wood.

Okay, there’s a big visual problem right off in the first shot. Jiminy Cricket is singing When You Wish Upon a Star (A song which has resulted in people wishing on me for decades, and not cleaning up afterwards either.) while seated on a candle-holder above a book of Pinocchio. A spotlight picks him out. (Where is he singing, and who is putting a spotlight on this bug?) The shadow of the shelf is clearly seen, and equally clearly we see that Jiminy is not casting any shadow.

"Shadow? I don' need no stinkin' shadow!"

Hello? This has bothered me every time I’ve ever watched this movie. (Beside Jiminy are books whose spines show the titles Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. Disney making promises? Disney would release his Alice 11 years later, and his Peter came out 13 years later, as did his movie of Peter Pan.) At the instant he finishes the song, they cut to a much closer shot, and suddenly the shadow he was missing before appears, so it’s not like they forgot he needed a shadow. They just didn’t bother.

Budget concerns? In a movie with one shot that cost over $50,000? That $50,000 shot is the multiplane shot from Jiminy’s point-of-view of Gepetto’s shop as Jiminy hops closer, which comes only a moment later. It’s an amazing shot, especially on big screen.

In the book Pinocchio, the cricket is killed by Pinocchio in chapter one. Clearly Jiminy had a better agent when dealing with Disney.

Kindly loveable old Gepetto has no child to love. Aaaww. Why doesn’t he? Was there never a Mrs. Gepetto? Was he sterile? Gay? He couldn’t adopt?

Jiminy leans his hand on the hugely bustled butt of a china lady, and begs her pardon, This is the first butt joke in the film, but far, far from the last. Disney’s anal infatuation appears over and over. (We have already had by this point the shot of the cricket warming his butt on the hearth.)

It’s also the first, but far from the last instance of the cricket showing lust for human females. This is an odd idea, animals with sexual lust for human females, that reappears throughout Disney. Look at the way Donald Duck goes bananas for human ladies in The Three Caballeros. (“We’re three caballeros, three gay caballeros, they say we are birds of a feather.” Birds? Yes. Caballeros? Arguably. Gay? Clearly not.)

Cleo the goldfish shows a lot more interest in Gepetto’s doings than any fish I’ve ever seen. Neither Cleo nor Figaro the kitten can speak, but both understand English (Why Italian Gepetto speaks English, without even an accent, is never dealt with. Later, the villainous Stromboli at least has an Italian accent. The villainous coachman has an English Cockney accent.)

Later, Gideon the cat wears clothes (as does Jiminy), and functions as a person, though he can not speak. (He had a voice. Mel Blanc, in his only job for Walt Disney, recorded all his dialogue, but then the decision was made to make Gideon Harpo-esque, and all his dialogue was cut. All that remains of Mel Blanc in the finished film is a hiccup. In his charming autobiography, That’s Not All Folks, Mel says he worked 16 days on the movie at $50 a day, so he was paid $800 for a single huccup. At that rate, I would be a billionaire!) (I had lunch with Mel Blanc once, in 1976, a total charmer. We spent the entire lunch talking about Jack Benny.)

But Honest John (In all materials about the film his name is given as “J. Worthington Foulfellow,” but in the film he is only ever called “Honest John.”) is a fox who can speak, and even sing - as famously does Jiminy - and seems accepted by humans as a normal member of society, albeit a crooked one. What planet is this?

Next butt joke: In the song Little Wooden Head (What an explicit anatomical feature to sing about in a children’s movie, though it can make me sing my brains out!) is the lyric: “Little wooden feet and best of all, little wooden seat in case you fall,” followed by Gepetto giving the lifeless puppet a prat fall on his little wooden butt.

Cleo breathes out bubbles throughout the movie. Where is the air for those bubbles coming from?

Third butt joke: One of Gepetto’s cuckoo clocks marks the hour by showing a fat woman spanking a little boy’s explicitly-depicted naked butt. Yes, there is little boy ass crack 10 minutes into the movie.

Cleo the goldfish likes being petted and having her stomach tickled like a kitten. Ever known a fish to enjoy physical contact from a human?

Cleo and Figaro are reluctant friends. I’ve known a lot of pussycats in my long, long life, and they all loved goldfish too, preferably for lunch. As Cat sings in Red Dwarf: “I’m gonna eat you little fishey!”

When Gepetto declares it bedtime, Cleo goes to sleep. I’ve never heard of a fish that sleeps.

Gepetto smokes in bed. He even has a peg on his headboard to hang his pipe on, so he does it habitually. Wonderful comic actor Jack Cassidy and beautiful actress Francis Drake might have warned him against this, except that both of them burned to death after falling asleep while smoking.

The Blue Fairy grants Gepetto’s wish that Pinocchio be alive. I’ve known hundreds of fairies of all colors, and not one of them has ever granted my impossible wishes. My water taps here at Morehead Heights, mounted ever-less-firmly atop mighty Tumescent Tor, which thrusts insistently skyward, still do not dispense Vodka.

Gepetto sleeps with his glasses on. Bad idea, though not as bad as smoking in bed.

Pinocchio comes to life already able to speak, fully conversant with English, and with the intellectual level of a 7 or 8 year old boy. Where did that knowledge come from, particularly given his brain is pinewood, and he’s been sentient for only 2 seconds? I guess he came already programmed, like a PC.

The Fairy gives Pinocchio a goal: prove himself brave, truthful, and unselfish, and he gets to become a human being. No other human was ever given this entrance requirement, though it would be a vastly better world if they were. But why didn’t the Fairy just create him that way? I mean, where does his personality traits come from if not from she who made wood sentient?

The transparent coloring of the Blue Fairy is exquisite.

Once again, Jiminy’s lust for human women comes to the forefront. The Blue Fairy cons Jiminy into being Pinocchio’s conscience by hitting him close up with her beauty, and Jiminy blushes deep pink out of desire for her. Okay, I’ve seen fairies charm insects they should have squashed many a time. She makes him kneel before her to receive her blessing, like all fairies I know. At least he gets a new outfit out of the deal. She gives him a magic make-over. He needed it, He was wearing the raggediest outfit I’ve ever seen household vermin wear. It’s Queer Eye for the Straight Bug.

In the charming third musical number, Give a Little Whistle, Jiminy teaches Pinocchio to whistle. How does a creature with no lungs, made of solid pine, expel air? And what was Disney’s obsession with whistling? Snow White also sings Whistle While You Work, though at my age, one pants as one works.

Fourth butt joke: As Jiminy slides on the violin strings in the song, the string snaps, and strikes him in the ass (Who knew crickets even have asses?) hard enough to send him flying.

Jiminy flirts with a mechanical wooden human-esque milkmaid in one of the clocks. Now he’s lusting for mechanical wooden human effigies!

Fifth butt joke: Gepetto lights a match by scratching it up his own butt. I guess he has a hot ass.

Turns out Gepetto keeps a loaded pistol under his pillow. He’s going to blow his brains out in his sleep that way. What other dangers for the unwary sleeper are lurking in his bed besides pipes and guns? A bear trap? Rick Perry? 

Sixth butt joke: Pinocchio startles Figaro when he’s walking under Gepetto’s nightshirt, and the cat flies straight up into Gepetto’s butt under his nightshirt, which so excites Gepetto that he fires one off, and his pistol shoots also.

Seventh butt joke: Jiminy asks to “cut-in” on two mechanical dancing figures by taping on the female’s hugely-bustled butt with his phallic umbrella handle. Then he asks the human effigy “How’s about sittin’ out the next one, eh?” He is obsessed with lust for human females!

Pinocchio still has one wooden aspect, he can not feel physical pain, as we see when he sets the index finger of his left hand on fire. (This still is flipped. In the film it's his other hand, Figaro is on the other side, and the basket is on the other side. A giveaway is that the feather in Pinocchio's hat is on the wrong side. I do not know why the image is flipped but I'm too lazy to flip it back now.) At least until Gepetto reaches Cleo’s bowl, when it is his right hand that is on fire and gets dunked. Pinocchio’s burnt glove self-repairs, or maybe it “heals.”

I don’t know how much money they spent on the stunning multiplane shot of the town waking up the next morning, with the camera panning about, tracking in through archways to different locales, while dozens of animated schoolkids and their parents enter and scamper about, but one biography of Disney I consulted (out of 5) cited the shot as costing $1000 a second. That would nail it at $44,000! Anyway, the shot is worth it.

When Pinocchio asks what the other children are, and Gepetto answers “Boys and girls,” Pinocchio makes a momentary face on “girls,” but then enthusiastically asks: “Real boys?” Gay! (Cleo and the Blue Fairy are the only female characters of any importance in the movie. This is a very masculine fable.)

From here on in, we must pay attention to the timeline, because it’s central to the plot problems of this move. Okay, it’s the morning after the night when Pinocchio comes to life. We’re roughly ten hours into the timeline here.

Enter Honest John & Gideon, a fox and a cat who wear clothes and are accepted as full members of human society. We do not see any other animals in the film who are. They are struck by the novelty of a living wooden mannequin, but no one is struck by how weird it is to have a fox and a cat being a sly comedy team amongst humans. A talking fox in clothes, considerably larger even than a wolf? Well what’s so strange about that?

Eighth butt joke: After tripping Pinocchio, Gideon sweeps his butt with a whisk broom, then picks his rear pocket.

Ninth Butt Joke: As Honest John begins seducing Pinocchio into a life in the theater, he admires his many physical aspects. As he says: “That physique,” he taps Pinocchio’s butt with his phallic cane. We’re in very dangerous waters here, but he is about to launch into the great song An Actor’s Life For Me, my own personal theme song. It also contains the shockingly honest lyric: “Hi diddley day, an actor’s life is gay.” True, but this is a Disney film!

During the song, when they cut from a ground-level medium-shot, to the stunning overhead tracking shot of them singing as they dance down the street, the book and apple core Pinocchio is holding vanishes out of existence.

Jiminy oversleeps his first day (out of only two days total) on the job. I had no idea insects slept at all, let alone overslept.

We then jump ahead to that evening. We are 24 hours into the story. Pinocchio is opening in Stromboli’s puppet show, where he has learned a musical number but, as one would expect from an amateur with only one day’s rehearsal, he screws up the choreography.

No matter. He’s an instant star. Jiminy momentarily abandons him with the great line: “What does an actor need with a conscience anyway?” Good question.

Well Stromboli gets an Italian accent, though we’re told he is a gypsy.

Tenth butt joke: In the I’ve Got No Strings number, the Dutch girl puppets sandwich Pinocchio between their out-pushed butts.

When the French female puppets begin doing a can-can number, Jiminy does a double take, and then puts on his glasses, enthralled. More lusting for human female effigies. I may never take my clothes off in front of a cockroach again, unless he’s very cute, and I’ve never seen a cute roach.

Back at Gepetto’s house, it’s dinner time and Pinocchio is not home from school yet, so they are holding dinner. I understand Geppeto’s concern for what happened to the boy (Gepetto should have taken him to school himself, rather than shove a ten-hour-old wooden boy out the door unchaperoned.), but why wait dinner? Pinocchio is made of wood. He has no stomach nor digestive system. He can’t eat or drink.

Cleo has a piece of cake in her bowl. Even if fish ate cake, no one wants cake that’s been immersed in water. Ew. Let them drink cake!

Figaro’s dinner is a cooked fish, which Gepetto intends him to eat in full view of Cleo. Double ew! Cleo must live in constant terror.

There is no Stage Puppet’s Union, so Stromboli decides to keep Pinocchio as an unpaid slave, though he gives him a worthless slug as token payment before locking him in a birdcage, and threatening him by throwing an axe into a “dead" puppet, in a gruesome shot. Disney never backed off from terrorizing kids, and certain scenes in Pinocchio would be at home in a horror movie.

Eleventh Butt Joke: When Stromboli mentions Constantinople, he shakes his gigantic ass in our faces in a comical parody of a belly dancer.

When Jiminy catches up to Pinocchio in Stromboli’s coach, he refers to himself as “your old friend.” Pinocchio has been alive at this point about 24 hours.

Pinocchio and Jiminy both routinely wear their hats indoors. Manners, boys, manners!

Does our heroes own resourcefulness get them out of the tight spot they are in? Nope. The Blue Fairy arrives and frees them. A deus ex machina halfway through the movie. Sloppy plotting.

Pinocchio’s famous trait of having his nose grow when he lies has always brought to my filthy mind the image of a bed partner for him one day, whether male or female (He shows no interest in the female puppets that so entrance the cricket), screaming in the heat of passion: “Lie to me, Pinocchio, lie to me! Lie bigger! Lie harder! Tell me Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. I need a BIG lie!”

Twelfth butt joke: To hide in shame when the Blue Fairy appears in Stromboli’s caravan, Pinocchio faces away from her and bends over, presenting his butt to her in greeting. So Pinocchio is a bottom. By the way, this is the proper way to greet a fairy that materializes in your room. The fairy’s “magic wand” will set you free that way.

Twelfth-and-a-half butt joke: Jiminy is also presenting his butt to the fairy, with his head buried in bird seed. Kinky! He’s playing “Tweety” with her.

Pinocchio’s nose doesn’t merely grow. It sprouts twigs, leaves, a bird's nest, and hatches two baby birds, suddenly called into existence by Pinocchio’s lies. Well, they aren’t the first to be given life through someone lying to someone else.

(Also, we are told by the Blue Fairy that Pinocchio is made of pine. Why then does he sprout leaves instead of pine needles?)

The fairy says: “This is the last time that I can help you.” This is a lie. She will help him twice more.

Next we have a talking fox, a large dressed cat hiccuping with Mel Blanc’s voice, and a Cockney coachman drinking and plotting evil together in an Italian saloon. I’ve never seen Englishmen drink with talking animals in a bar in my life, anywhere in the world, not just Italy.

Okay, this is a big one. Let’s look at the whole Pleasure Island scam. To wit: it involves kidnapping large numbers of little boys, indeed, requires a steady supply of them to be profitable. Wouldn’t wholesale disappearances of children be noticed by - oh - hundreds of people? The perfect crime, this is not.

The scheme requires the creation, construction, operation, and apparently drastic nightly repairs to, an entire, rather large and elaborate, theme park (the theme being “Wholesale Hooliganism”), which would cost millions!

What do they get from this? A supply of work-donkeys to sell to farmers, salt miners, circuses, zoos, etc. Is the market for donkeys so enormous that there’s a chance in Hell of this scheme being even remotely profitable? Wouldn’t it be vastly more cost-effective to just breed donkeys in the normal manner, not to mention the legal risk? As horror movie, the Pleasure Island sequence is magnificent. It has terrified kids and grown-ups for 71 years, and caused nightmares beyond counting. It is incredibly disturbing and frightening. But as an economically feasible scheme, it’s beyond idiotic. This has bothered me for many decades, ever since I was old enough to stop being freaked out by it, and able to think about it rationally.

And one other point: given that it posits that turning kids loose in a huge theme park causes them to mutate into donkeys, isn’t it ironic that Walt Disney would go on to create the most-popular theme parks on earth? His studio successors have even put Pleasure Islands into the parks, in the Pinocchio rides in the Fantasylands, and in Orlando, actually making a genuine island called Pleasure Island. Is the Disney corporation running a secret sideline in black market donkeys? (The studio was even run for many years by a major jackass named Eisner.) Do they have signs saying “Unruly children will be turned into donkeys and sold”?

“I’d rather be smart than be an actor,” says Pinocchio. You can be both (Hello!), but it’s still a damn funny line.

In “diagnosing” Pinocchio, Honest John listens to Pinocchio’s “heart.” His chest is solid wood. He has no heart, nor any internal organs at all. This fact will figure in my greatest plot objection, later on.

When Honest John gives Pinocchio his “ticket” to Pleasure Island, he gives him an Ace of Spades. This is known as the Death Card. That implication is probably intentional on the studio’s part, but Pinocchio is not being threatened with death, rather with life. When he begins changing into a donkey, his ears and tail are meat, not wood; he’s becoming a real, live donkey.

Early in the film, roughly 50 clocks inform us that Gepetto went to bed at 9 PM. This means Pinocchio’s birth occurs about 9:05 PM. We are explicitly told that the coach for Pleasure Island leaves at midnight, so when Pinocchio goes off on it, he’s 27 hours old. I’m going somewhere with this timeline. Trust me.

It’s not really presented as a gag, so I won’t list it as a butt joke, but on the coach, Lampwick repeatedly uses his slingshot to shoot rocks at the asses of the asses pulling the coach. Though it’s never made explicit, plot logic demands that these donkeys are all ex-little boys.

The whole trip to Pleasure Island and the indulgence of the boys there features spectacular animation.

I should add that the large sidewheeler steamboat that transports the kids to the island is another large expense in this scheme. The price and demand for donkeys must be gigantic.

Among the unique attractions at Pleasure Island are a tent in which boys are encouraged to just beat the snot out of each other in a giant, ongoing brawl, and Tobacco Road, where they boys are given free cigars. The latter becomes ironic when we remember that it was smoking that killed Walt Disney.

Another attraction is the “Model Home,” a large, mostly glass palace the boys are allowed to vandalize, including smashing complex stained-glass windows. Just repairing that for the next batch of boys must cost more than they could get for the donkeys, not to mention requiring weeks to fix.

Lampwick strikes a match on the Mona Lisa, which has already had a chalk stick figure drawn over it. Well, I’m sure it’s merely a reproduction.

The Pleasure Island scam also seems to employ a lot of men, many pockets to pay, many mouths that know of this ongoing, ferociously cruel and horrific crime.

When we see the park later, it seems to have suffered damage to the tune of millions of dollars. Donkeys better be worth more than diamonds.

Fortunately for Pinocchio and the plot, he and Lampwick are the last to transform into jackasses. I can accept that the factors of Pinocchio’s pure spirit, his utter lack of malice, and the fact that he’s made of wood not flesh, delayed his transformation, but why is Lampwick the last flesh human to transform? He’s pretty much an irredeemable delinquent from the moment we meet him, the very essence of a Bad Influence. He was a jackass going in. Even on the coach ride in, he gave as one of the island’s best features: “no cops.”

The pool hall shaped like a giant 8 ball is a swell idea.

Pinocchio learns that smoking will make you sick. Too bad Walt Disney didn’t pay attention to that lesson. But how does Pinocchio smoke? Again, he has no lungs! The danger of smoking to him isn’t lung cancer, it’s setting himself on fire, something he’s already done once.

“Ah, you smoke like me grandmother,” says Lampwick, a really funny line, though bewildering to Little Dougie. One of his grandmothers was a Mormon, and the other was a Christian Science Practitioner, so neither one of them ever smoked. (Perhaps the funniest line I ever heard in a gay porn movie was a bottom shouting at the top who was giving him too gentle a pounding: “My grandmother fucks harder than you do!”)

As you can see from this picture, lungs or no lungs, Pinocchio smokes a cigar the way most people smoke a medicinal joint. Don't Bogart that cigar, Pinoc.

Lampwick’s nickname for Pinocchio is “Slats.” That’s pretty funny. He seems to take it in stride as no big surprise that his sidekick is made of wood.

When Lampwick picks up Jiminy, he asks: “Hey, who’s the Beatle?” How amazing that Lampwick already knows of The Beatles, given that the two oldest ones, John & Ringo, were only born the year Pinocchio was released. How prescient. (Ringo Starr is 71? Oy vey!) Lampwick is also very blase about meeting a talking cricket who is dressed better than he is.

Once we get to the donkeys, we are presented with one of the most nightmarish movie sequences in all of 1930s & '40s Hollywood cinema. And bear in mind, while Pinocchio escapes (Apparently the moment he’s off the island, its power to transform him is escaped also.), no one else does! All the other children go to their Hellish fate with no sign of rescue or restoration ever.

Nor are any of the Pinocchio villains ever apprehended or punished. They all get away with it, scot free. Pleasure Island remains an ongoing unspeakable horror. Hey, Blue Fairy, how about intervening here?

Pinocchio has been drinking beer. How? He has no throat nor stomach. Does he absorb it? Pinocchio’s time as a were-jackass reminds we theatrically-minded of Nick Bottom’s stretch as a were-jackass (right down to Shakespeare’s punning name for him: “Bottom” becomes a literal Ass.) in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a role quite successfully played onstage in 1997 by Little Dougie. But with Bottom, it’s pure, hilarious farce. For Pinocchio, it’s total terror.

The shot of Lampwick’s hands clawing in terror at Pinocchio, only to mutate into hooves as he does so is more horrifying than anything Universal Pictures was making in that era, and their The Wolfman came out the following year. Few took their kids to The Wolfman, but everybody took their kids to Pinocchio.

Does the shot of Pinocchio’s ass’s tale suddenly shooting out of his butt constitute butt gag # 13? No. It’s not a gag, but a shot that sends the kids watching into a frenzy of terror as their now-beloved little hero is suffering the same horrible fate they’ve just seen befall Lampwick.

Pinocchio reaches home before dawn of that same one night. He’s been gone less than 24 hours. Since Gepetto didn’t leave to look for him (And after his initial departure he must have returned. Because when he left the first time, he left alone, but now Cleo and Figaro are gone with him) until after dark (Let’s say 8 PM-ish), he can’t have been gone more than 8 or 9 hours.

Yet the house interior is covered in dust and cobwebs. An army of wildly industrious spiders must have been spinning their tiny brains out. The place looks like it’s been abandoned for years!

A great deal of plot mechanics are now lept over by having the Blue Fairy, who just a few hours earlier said she could never help Pinocchio again, send him a message via Dove-Mail that informs him that Gepetto went looking for him and got swallowed by a whale.

In less than ten hours, Gepetto has exhausted all the land around his home where Pinocchio could be, gotten passage on, or chartered, or already owned, a boat, collected his pets, went to sea, and got swallowed by a whale. What a busy night he’s had.

Pinocchio now, for the first time, begins showing the qualities the Blue Fairy told him he must achieve, by instantly charging off, free of fear, to find and rescue his dad. Good thing for Gepetto that he didn’t run into Honest John a third time. (Honest John got paid a large bag of gold for seducing Pinocchio, and is never seen again, also getting off scot free to enjoy his ill-gotten goods. No retribution for anyone in this movie, despite some of the most despicable characters in the whole Disney canon.)

It is dawn of the second day of Pinocchio’s life when he ties a rock to his tail and jumps into the sea, not committing suicide, but on his rescue mission. He’s about 33 hours old now.

The whole sequence of Pinocchio’s underwater search is of surpassing visual beauty, of a type not seen in a Disney movie again until the exquisite Finding Nemo, over 60 years later.

But note, because it's important later, that Pinocchio has no problem being underwater for an extended time. Someone without lungs, who does not breathe, can not drown. Of course , the tendency of wood to float can be a problem, but he has that rock tied to his tail. He and Jiminy (whose failure to drown is more problematic) are even able, somehow, to speak to each other underwater.

Butt joke thirteen: To stay underwater without floating upwards, Jiminy puts a pebble in his pants, which makes him look like he has, let’s say a large load in his diapers. I’m sure that, after the donkey sequence, many a kid in the audiences over the years did too. It’s a movie where you could say there was not a dry seat in the house.

The fish in the sea also understand human language, at least enough to flee in terror when the word “Monstro” is somehow spoken.

A clam emits bubbles. How? One bubble is so large, Jiminy is contained within it, but he pokes a hole in it, and it fills with water. This has no relationship to actual air-in-water physics. What cosmos is this?

Finally, at 1 hour, 13 minutes and 12 seconds into this movie, we meet the most dynamic and fully-realized character, my personal favorite, Monstro the Whale, although the character is a monstrous libel against whales, beautiful and gentle giants of high intelligence.

Monstro is gorgeously designed and magnificently animated. Inside Monstro there is a lot of open air. A lot! Also a lot of room.

And here we find Gepetto, Cleo (In her bowl. She is, after all, a fresh-water fish), and Figaro, who, having eaten seafood, has now been eaten by seafood, and Gepetto’s boat. There is no evidence of anyone else. So either he was sailing it himself (though it looks large enough to require at least two if not three to man it), which would mean he either owned it already, or was able to buy it and sail it off in that one evening, or the crew all died when Monstro attacked the boat. The question is never addressed.

Gepetto and his pets are starving to death. They act like they’ve been inside that whale for weeks. Gepetto actually says of his fishing inside the whale: “Not a bite for days.” Is he counting the days before Pinocchio was brought to life? Because the timeline proves that, even if we say it’s noon by now, he can not have been inside that whale more than 12 hours at the most. Is it a dire situation? Yes. Can they be starving to death in less than 12 hours? Well, can you starve to death in that time? At most, they might feel a tad peckish. This is the aspect of the movie that bothers me the second-most, Gepetto’s behavior like he’s been without food for a month, when he tromped off from a full table of dinner at most 18 hours earlier, probably less. The idea of eating Cleo has apparently not occurred to either Gepetto or Figaro.

Also, Monstro seems to be part Tardis, because he’s considerably larger on the inside than he is on the outside.

All the fish we’ve met up to now have been anthropomorphized to some degree, but now we get a school of tuna that are rendered as realistically as possible. Whenever Monstro moves, it’s wildly wonderful animation, and the tuna eating sequence with Gepetto fishing inside the whale is tremendous.

That, when panicked, Pinocchio manages to swim faster than the tuna is, let’s say remarkable. It seems silly to call something "implausible" in a movie about a live wooden boy.

Again, the idea of a whale sleeping seems unlikely to me, and if it did sleep, it would not do so on the ocean floor. A whale breathes air. It can drown.

The shots of Jiminy with Monstro’s eye and teeth are hilarious scale-joke shots. Great comic fantasy art.

Pinocchio getting swallowed by the whale is somewhat scary, as getting swallowed by a whale always is. Just ask Little Dougie. He’s been swallowed by a few whales himself. And we’ve both been swallowed by Monstro ourselves together, at Disneyland.

Side note, I only fairly recently realized that the Monstro that swallows you into Storybookland in Disneyland these days is not the original Monstro, built back in 1956, shortly after the park opened. When Fantasyland was redone in 1982, the old Monstro was torn down and a new, smaller one replaced it. See the comparison in the photo below. I’m embarrassed that it took me 20 years to notice the change.

Dougie is always attracted to folks who are hung like a whale. Here we see Little Dougie back when he was young and less repulsive, French-kissing the Original Monstro, in hopes that he's a sperm whale.

Coming out and telling your parents you’re gay is hard enough, but how do you explain to Dad that your hooliganish behavior has turned you into a were-ass? Fortunately, Gepetto is into unconditional love. He may be a loveably befuddled character, but he’s also a saintly father figure.

For someone who is at most 40 hours old, Pinocchio is more resourceful than Papa, and quickly devises a brilliant, simple, and effective plan to escape from the whale, involving fire, a phenomena he understood so poorly only 40 hours earlier that he set his finger on fire with little more reaction than “Pretty, pretty.”

And how in hell did Gepetto build a raft like that so quickly? Remember, he can not have been in that whale even 12 hours, no matter that he says it’s been days. (Unless Monstro is some kind of Tardis whose inside runs at a different time rate than the outside universe.)

However, if I were made of wood, I’d be a lot more careful about setting a big wood fire, and also, some of what he’s burning may be relatives of his. (In a sequence written and possibly animated, but cut from the film, Gepetto was to tell Pinocchio about his grandfather, a pine tree.)

They need a big, showy climax, and the whale chase certainly provides that. The escape from and chase by Monstro is a great sequence. Never has any of the numerous attempts to film Moby Dick ever achieved anything like this great action scene. Frankly, the best qualities of Moby Dick, another libel on the sweet nature of whales, are essentially literary anyway. It’s not actually good film material, despite the varied and interesting cast of characters.

I can find no evidence that sneeze specialist Billy Gilbert was called in to provide Monstro’s giant sneezes, but Walt was well aware of his talent in that area, having used him for the voice of Sneezy shortly before.

And now, at last we come to my biggest problem with this movie’s story: The Death of Pinocchio.

He drowns.

How can Pinocchio drown? How? He has no lungs. He does not breathe. He can not drown. In fact, I would think that to kill him, given his life is created and sustained solely by fairy magic (much like Little Dougie’s) I don’t see how he could be killed at all, short of burning him up. If you chopped him to bits, by logic, the bits would still be alive until such time as the Blue Fairy took back the life that she created. He wasn’t smashed against the rocks, as he might have been in that climactic moment. We can see he is undamaged.

Drowning is the only possible cause of death for him here, except he can not drown. Remember, earlier we saw him spend a lengthy and protracted period of time strolling about the ocean floor, even chatting with fish and with Jiminy, all without drowning. (Nor did Jiminy drown, which is more problematic, since he does breathe to live.)

So what killed Pinocchio? The most deadly movie hazard of all, Plot Necessity.

In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Snow White sort of dies, everybody has a good cry, and then she is resurrected by Love’s First Kiss, and rises again, explicitly Christlike, and all feel joy as she rides off to Happily-Ever-After-Land. It worked really, really well, and Walt Disney blatently decided to go with that end-formula a second time.

Pinocchio dies so that the Blue Fairy, once again helping him even though she said she couldn’t do that anymore, can resurrect the now-noble, self-sacrificing boy, even more Christlike. (He died for his father.)

You’d think that merely getting back to shore safely (Even Figaro and Cleo in her bowl wash up on shore OK, by a wild coincidence, right beside Gepetto.), with his bravery and resourcefulness, would be enough for the ending, with Pinocchio getting his promised reward of becoming a genuine human being, but no. Walt felt the need to go all Easter Sunday on us: Death and Resurrection, along with transformation into a little boy who is, let’s be frank, not as cute as the wooden version.

But joy after tears repeats the audience-pleasing catharsis, and audiences for 71 years have been elated by the joyous end of Pinocchio. And so, after less than 48 hours of life, Pinocchio is real. Music, dancing, and Jiminy gets a medal he tells us is “Solid Gold,” though it says right on it “18 KT, which is not solid gold.

And it tells us at last that when we wish upon a star, our dreams come true. It’s bullshit, but it’s sweet. The real moral is that it’s good to be brave, truthful and unselfish, however, if you get killed in the process, don’t expect any fairies to save your ass, though I know a few (more than a few) who will savor your ass.

Cheers darlings.


RCP said...

This was a treat to read, Tallulah. I may rent this film and watch it for the first time, keeping in mind your insights. It sounds, though, like it should really be experienced on the Big Screen.

I didn't realize you were such a romantic, as you stand on the cliffs near Morehead Heights, searching longingly for the sailor who promised return? And how low does one have to crouch to get inside Monstro's mouth and past those(bloodied?)teeth at Disneyland?

Tallulah Morehead said...

Thank you. Labor of love. If you enjoyed this, your should scroll down to the column I did last week on Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs titled The 7 Dwarfs of Dr. Lao.

There is plenty of - ah - head room in Monstro's mouth. One rides through it in a canal boat. Not been to Disneyland either?

The chances of seeing Pinocchio on a big screen anytime soon are remote. But the recent, 2-disc DVD release, and the Blu-Ray edition, and been so utterly, painstakingly restored, even taking out bits of dust on the images that have been there since it's original release, that it looks better on the DVD than it did even on it's long, long ago opening night, and it is a visually spectacular, and often very funny film. How have you gotten through life without ever seeing it? (But rent the RECENT DVD release, not the elderly orginal DVD of it. Pinocchio was the first-ever Disney flm released on DVD.)

I wondered if anyone would notice me in the photo of my home, since I'm so tiny in that shot. Full marks to you on that spotting. And I'm looking for pretty much any sailor.

Be sure to click on the last image in the column. It's a gorgeous painting full of the Pinocchio characters and settings, rendered in a very beautiful style. The artist's name is on the lower left-hand corner of the picture.

GardenGuy said...

What an interesting and funny irreverent look at such a classic. I never thought I'd be looking for butt jokes the next time I watch it. A whole new theme to follow! One thing that always bugged me was at the end how did they keep the salt water out of the fish bowl where it would have killed the fish?

RCP said...

Thanks for suggesting the DVD - it really sounds like a worthwhile and fun experience.

I was last in Disneyland 35 years ago and don't even remember Monstro. I didn't look closely enough at your photos, and it looks like you could just walk in - (Little Dougie was/is a snappy dresser by the way.) Have no memory of seeing any of the animated Disney films as a kid, except maybe The AristoCats. When I was 11 in 1972 my mom took me to see Cabaret, and a couple years before that my best friend's parents snuck us into a drive-in playing a Hells Angels double feature. But Disney films? Too risque!

The last illustration is magically beautiful - wouldn't it be nice to live there? Oh - I did read and enjoy your Snow White piece, too.

Tallulah Morehead said...

Cleo's bowl had an app which repelled sloshing seawater.

If you walked through Monstro, your shoes and calves would get soaked, as would those of the security guards who'd come after you and expell you from the park. The photo of Little Douge kissing Monstro is a perspective joke. He's not really in front of it, but beside it, with the photo angled so they look to be on the same plane when they are not.

I've never seen The Aristocats. Try the animated movies actually made by Walt Disney, not ones made after he died. Fantasia, Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady & The Tramp, Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmations are all varying degrees of wonderful. Cinderella, Robin Hood, and The Jungle Book less so.

"RCP said...
The last illustration is magically beautiful - wouldn't it be nice to live there?"

Reread the column. Talking animals seduce the innocent, coachmen turn stray kids into donkeys to sell into slavery, and all the bad guys get away with everything. (In the words of Lampwick: "No cops!"). It's lovely to look at, nice to visit when at Disneyland, but no, I wouldn't want to live there.

Lana said...

All I can say is, "Wow, that was amazing." I actually said that out loud. It is such a joy reading your hysterical, glorious posts!!!

Tallulah Morehead said...

Thanks Lana. Are you Lana Wood, by any chance, attracted by the column title?

Natalie Sztern said...

Where were you when I had to take a course on Children's Literature and like a fool I chose Seuss?

You should put this into a Coles Notebook (this Coles Notes used to be every students blessed wish and it emanates out of Montreal. It takes school novels and take out all the pertinent facts and puts it into a 'cheat sheet' so that students don't have to read the book ... google Cole's Notebook and u will see...

LizinSR said...

Douglas - did you ever see the X-Rated Pinocchio movie? Naturally it wasn't his nose that grew when he lied. It was silly, but very funny.