The plot of the film involves an old wood-carver named Geppetto who carves a wooden puppet named Pinocchio. The puppet is brought to life by a blue fairy, who informs him that he can become a real boy if he proves himself to be "brave, truthful, and unselfish". Pinocchio's efforts to become a real boy involve encounters with a host of unsavory characters. The film was adapted by Aurelius Battaglia, William Cottrell, Otto Englander, Erdman Penner, Joseph Sabo, Ted Sears, and Webb Smith from Collodi's book. The production was supervised by Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton Luske, and the film's sequences were directed by Norman Ferguson, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, and Bill Roberts. Pinocchio was a groundbreaking achievement in the area of effects animation, giving realistic movement to vehicles, machinery and natural elements such as rain, lightning, smoke, shadows and water. The film was released to theaters by RKO Radio Pictures on February 7, 1940.
Jiminy Cricket explains that he is going to tell a story of a wish coming true. His story begins in the workshop of a woodworker named Geppetto. Jiminy watches as Geppetto finishes work on a wooden marionette whom he names Pinocchio. Before falling asleep, Geppetto makes a wish on a star that Pinocchio be a real boy. During the night, a Blue Fairy visits the workshop and brings Pinocchio to life, although he still remains a puppet. She informs him that if he proves himself brave, truthful, and unselfish, he will become a real boy, and assigns Jiminy to be his conscience.
Geppetto discovers that his wish has come true, and is filled with joy. However, on his way to school, Pinocchio is led astray by Honest John the Fox and his companion, Gideon the Cat, who convince him to join Stromboli's puppet show, despite Jiminy's objections. Pinocchio becomes Stromboli's star attraction as a marionette who can sing and dance without strings. However, when Pinocchio wants to go home for the night, Stromboli locks him in a birdcage. Jiminy arrives to see Pinocchio, and is unable to free him. The Blue Fairy appears, and asks Pinocchio why he was not at school. Jiminy urges Pinocchio to tell the truth, but instead he starts telling lies, which causes his nose to grow longer and longer. Pinocchio vows to be good from now on, and the Blue Fairy returns his nose to its original form and sets him free, while warning him that this will be the last time she can help him.
Meanwhile, across town, Honest John and Gideon meet a coachman who promises to pay them money if they can find naughty little boys for him to take to Pleasure Island. Encountering Pinocchio on his way home, they convince him that he needs to take a vacation there. On the way to Pleasure Island, he befriends Lampwick, a delinquent boy. Without rules or authority to enforce their activity, Pinocchio and the other boys soon engage in smoking tobacco, gambling, vandalism, and getting drunk, much to Jiminy's dismay. Later, while trying to get home, Jiminy discovers that the island hides a horrible curse: the boys brought to Pleasure Island are transformed into donkeys and sold into slave labor. Jiminy runs back to warn Pinocchio, only to discover that Lampwick has transformed into a donkey; Pinocchio manages to escape, only partially transformed.
Upon returning home, Pinocchio and Jiminy find the workshop vacant. They soon get a letter from the blue fairy as a dove, stating that Geppetto had ventured out in search of Pinocchio, but was swallowed by a giant sperm whale named Monstro, and is now living in his belly. Determined to rescue his father, Pinocchio jumps into the sea accompanied by Jiminy. Pinocchio is soon swallowed by Monstro as well, where he is reunited with Geppetto. Pinocchio devises a scheme to make Monstro sneeze, giving them a chance to escape. The scheme works, but the enraged whale chases them, and smashes their raft. Pinocchio pulls Geppetto to safety in a cave before Monstro crashes into it. They are all washed up on a beach on the other side. Geppetto and Jiminy survive, but Pinocchio lies motionless face down in a tide pool nearby. Back home, the group mourns him. The Blue Fairy, however, decides that Pinocchio has proven himself brave, truthful, and unselfish, that he is reborn as a real human boy (his donkey ears and tail also gone), and everyone celebrates. Jiminy steps outside to thank the Fairy, and is rewarded with a solid gold badge that certifies him as an official conscience.Dickie Jones as Pinocchio, a wooden puppet carved by Geppetto, and turned into a living puppet by the Blue Fairy.
Jones also provided the voice of Alexander, a boy transformed into a donkey.
Cliff Edwards as Jiminy Cricket, a cheerful and wise cricket, who acts as Pinocchio's "conscience", and the partial narrator of the story.
Christian Rub as Mister Geppetto, a kind and elderly woodcarver, who creates Pinocchio, and wishes for him to become a real boy.
Figaro the cat and Cleo the goldfish are Geppetto's pets. Figaro is a spoiled cat who is prone to jealousy. Cleo is a flirty little goldfish with a habit of being Figaro's counselor.
Walter Catlett as "Honest" John Worthington Foulfellow, a sly anthropomorphic red fox, and the main antagonist of the film, who tricks Pinocchio twice in the film.
Gideon the Cat, Honest John's mute, crafty, and anthropomorphic feline sidekick. He was originally intended to be voiced by Mel Blanc of Looney Tunes fame (in his second work for Disney until his final work in Who Framed Roger Rabbit), but the filmmakers removed his dialogue from the script in favor of a mute performance (e.g. Harpo Marx) just like Dopey in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. However, Gideon's hiccups were provided by Blanc.
Charles Judels as Stromboli, a large, sinister, bearded Italian puppet-maker, who forces Pinocchio to perform onstage in order to make money. He speaks with an Italian accent, and curses in Italian when he gets angry, though he is identified as a gypsy. He is the only antagonist of the film to be part of the official Disney Villains line-up.
Judels also voiced the devious and sadistic Coachman, owner and operator of Pleasure Island, who enjoys turning unruly boys into donkeys.
Evelyn Venable as The Blue Fairy, who brings Pinocchio to life, and turns him into a real boy at the end of the film.
Frankie Darro as Lampwick, a naughty boy that Pinocchio befriends on his way to Pleasure Island. He is turned into a donkey on Pleasure Island.
In September 1937, during the production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, animator Norman Ferguson brought a translated version of Carlo Collodi's 1883 Italian children's novel, The Adventures of Pinocchio to the attention of Walt Disney. After reading the book "Walt was busting his guts with enthusiasm" as Ferguson later recalled. Pinocchio was intended to be the studio's third film, after Bambi. However, due to difficulties with Bambi (adapting the story and animating the animals realistically), it was put on hold and Pinocchio was moved ahead in production.
Writing and design
Unlike Snow White, which was a short story that the writers could expand and experiment with, Pinocchio was based on a novel with a very fixed story. Therefore, the story went through drastic changes before reaching its final incarnation. In the original novel, Pinocchio is a cold, rude, ungrateful, inhuman creature that often repels sympathy and only learns his lessons by means of brutal torture. The writers decided to modernize the character and depict him similar to Edgar Bergen's dummy Charlie McCarthy, but equally as rambunctious as the puppet in the book. The story was still being developed in the early stages of animation.
Early scenes animated by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston show that Pinocchio's design was exactly like that of a real wooden puppet with a long pointed nose, a peaked cap and bare wooden hands. Walt Disney, however, was not pleased with the work that was being done on the film. He felt that no one could really sympathize with such a character and called for an immediate halt in production. Fred Moore redesigned the character slightly to make him more appealing but the design still retained a wooden feel. Young and upcoming animator Milt Kahl felt that Thomas, Johnston and Moore were "rather obsessed with the idea of this boy being a wooden puppet" and felt that they should "forget that he was a puppet and get a cute little boy; you can always draw the wooden joints and make him a wooden puppet afterwards". Hamilton Luske suggested to Kahl that he should demonstrate his beliefs by animating a test sequence. Kahl showed Disney a test scene in which Pinocchio is underwater looking for his father. From this scene Kahl re-envisioned the character by making him look more like a real boy, with a child's Tyrolean hat and standard cartoon character four-fingered (or three and a thumb) hands with Mickey Mouse-type gloves on them. The only parts of Pinocchio that still looked more or less like a puppet were his arms, legs and his little button wooden nose. Disney embraced Kahl's scene and immediately urged the writers to evolve Pinocchio into a more innocent, naïve, somewhat coy personality that reflected Kahl's design.
However, Disney found that the new Pinocchio was too helpless and was far too often led astray by deceiving characters. Therefore, in the summer of 1938 Disney and his story team established the character of the cricket. Originally the cricket was only a minor character that Pinocchio killed by squashing him with a mallet and that later returned as a ghost. Disney dubbed the cricket Jiminy, and made him into a character that would try to guide Pinocchio into the right decisions. Once the character was expanded, he was depicted as a realistic cricket with toothed legs and waving antennae, but Disney wanted something more likable. Ward Kimball had spent several months animating a "Soup Eating Sequence" in Snow White, which was cut from the film due to pacing reasons. Kimball was about to quit until Disney rewarded him for his work by promoting him to the supervising animator of Jiminy Cricket. Kimball conjured up the design for Jiminy Cricket, whom he described as a little man with an egg head and no ears. "The only thing that makes him a cricket is because we call him one," Kimball later joked.
Due to the huge success of Snow White, Walt Disney wanted more famous voices for Pinocchio, which marked the first time an animated film had used celebrities as voice actors. He cast popular singer Cliff Edwards, also known as "Ukelele Ike", as Jiminy Cricket. Edwards was a popular entertainer who had made the first million-selling record. Disney rejected the idea of having an adult play Pinocchio and insisted that the character be voiced by a real child. He cast 12-year-old child actor Dickie Jones, who had previously been in Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. He also cast Frankie Darro as Lampwick, Walter Catlett as Foulfellow the Fox, Evelyn Venable as the Blue Fairy, Charles Judels as both the villainous Stromboli and the Coachman, and Christian Rub as Geppetto, whose design was even a caricature of Rub.
Another voice actor recruited was Mel Blanc, best remembered for voicing many of the characters in Warner Bros. cartoon shorts. Blanc was hired to perform the voice of Gideon the Cat. However, it was eventually decided that Gideon would be mute, so all of Blanc's recorded dialogue was subsequently deleted except for a solitary hiccup, which was heard three times in the finished film.
Animation began in September 1938. During the production of the film, the character model department was headed by Joe Grant, whose department was responsible for the building of three-dimensional clay models of the characters in the film, known as maquettes. These models were then given to the staff to observe how a character should be drawn from any given angle desired by the artists. The model makers also built working models of Geppetto's cuckoo clocks, as well as Stromboli's gypsy wagon and the Coachman's carriage. However, owing to the difficulty animating a realistic moving vehicle, the artists filmed the carriage maquettes on a miniature set using stop motion animation. Then each frame of the animation was transferred onto animation cels using an early version of a Xerox. The cels were then painted on the back and overlaid on top of background images with the cels of the characters to create the completed shot on the rostrum camera. Like Snow White, live-action footage was shot for Pinocchio with the actors playing the scenes in pantomime, supervised by Hamilton Luske. Rather than tracing, which would result in stiff unnatural movement, the animators used the footage as a guide for animation by studying human movement and then incorporating some poses into the animation (though slightly exaggerated).
Pinocchio was a groundbreaking achievement in the area of effects animation. In contrast to the character animators who concentrate on the acting of the characters, effects animators create everything that moves other than the characters. This includes vehicles, machinery and natural effects such as rain, lightning, snow, smoke, shadows and water, as well as the fantasy or science-fiction type effects like Fairy Dust. The influential abstract animator Oskar Fischinger, who mainly worked on Fantasia contributed to the effects animation of the Blue Fairy's wand. Effects animator Sandy Strother kept a diary about his year-long animation of the water effects, which included splashes, ripples, bubbles, waves and the illusion of being underwater. To help give depth to the ocean, the animators put more detail into the waves on the water surface in the foreground, and put in less detail as the surface moved further back. After the animation was traced onto cels, the animators would trace it once more with blue and black pencil leads to give the waves a sculptured look. To save time and money, the splashes were kept impressionistic. These techniques enabled Pinocchio to be one of the first animated films to have highly realistic effects animation. Ollie Johnston remarked "I think that's one of the finest things the studio's ever done, as Frank [Thomas] said, 'The water looks so real a person can drown in it, and they do.'"
The songs in Pinocchio were composed by Leigh Harline with lyrics by Ned Washington. Leigh Harline and Paul J. Smith composed the incidental music score. The soundtrack was first released on February 9, 1940. Jiminy Cricket's song, "When You Wish Upon A Star", became a major hit and is still identified with the film, and later as the theme song of The Walt Disney Company itself. The soundtrack won an Academy Award for Best Original Score.
M. Keith Booker considers the film to be the most-down-to-earth of the classic Disney animated films despite its theme song and magic, and notes that the film's protagonist has to work to prove his worth, which he remarked seemed "more in line with the ethos of capitalism" than most of the Disney films. Claudia Mitchell and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh believe that the male protagonists of films like Pinocchio and Bambi (1942) were purposefully constructed by Disney to appeal to both boys and girls. Mark I. Pinksy said that it is "a simple morality tale — cautionary and schematic — ideal for moral instruction, save for some of its darker moments", and noted that the film is a favorite of parents of young children.
Nicolas Sammond argues that the film is "an apt metaphor for the metaphysics of midcentury American child-rearing" and that the film is "ultimately an assimilationist fable". He considered it to be the central Disney film and the most strongly middle class, intended to relay the message that indulging in "the pleasures of the working class, of vaudeville, or of pool halls and amusement parks, led to a life as a beast of burden". For Sammond, the purpose of Pinocchio is to help convey to children the "middle-class virtues of deferred gratification, self-denial, thrift, and perseverance, naturalized as the experience of the most average American".
Pinocchio went into release accompanied by generally positive reviews. Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times gave the film five out of five stars, saying "Pinocchio is here at last, is every bit as fine as we had prayed it would be—if not finer—and that it is as gay and clever and delightful a fantasy as any well-behaved youngster or jaded oldster could hope to see." Time gave the film a positive review, saying "In craftsmanship and delicacy of drawing and coloring, in the articulation of its dozens of characters, in the greater variety and depth of its photographic effects, it tops the high standard Snow White set. The charm, humor and loving care with which it treats its inanimate characters puts it in a class by itself." The film won the Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score, the first Disney film to win either.
Initially, Pinocchio was not a box-office success. The box office returns from the film's initial release were both below Snow White's unprecedented success and below studio expectations. Of the film's $2.289 million negative cost – twice the cost of Snow White – Disney only recouped $1 million by late 1940, with studio reports of the film's final original box office take varying between $1.4 million and $1.9 million. Animation historian Michael Barrier notes that Pinocchio returned rentals of less than one million by September 1940, and in its first public annual report, Walt Disney Productions charged off a $1 million loss to the film. Barrier relays that a 1947 Pinocchio balance sheet listed total receipts to the studio of $1,423,046.78. This was primarily due to the fact that World War II and its aftermath had cut off the European and Asian markets overseas, and hindered the international success of Pinocchio and other Disney releases during the early and mid-1940s. Joe Grant recalled Walt Disney being "very, very depressed" about Pinocchio's initial returns at the box office. RKO recorded a loss of $94,000 for the film.
Many film historians consider this to be the film that most closely approaches technical perfection of all the Disney animated features. Film critic Leonard Maltin said, "with Pinocchio, Disney reached not only the height of his powers, but the apex of what many critics consider to be the realm of the animated cartoon." Despite its initial struggles at the box office, a series of reissues in the years after World War II proved more successful, and allowed the film to turn a profit. By 1973, the film had earned $13 million from the initial 1940 release and four reissues; further reissues in subsequent years have brought Pinocchio's lifetime gross to $84,254,167 at the box office.
In 1994, Pinocchio was added to the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Filmmaker Terry Gilliam selected it as one of the ten best animated films of all time in a 2001 article written for The Guardian and in 2005, Time named it one of the 100 best films of the last 80 years, and then in June 2011 named it the best animated movie of "The 25 All-TIME Best Animated Films".
In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "Ten top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Pinocchio was acknowledged as the second best film in the animation genre, after Snow White. It was nominated for the AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies, and received further nominations for their Thrills and Heroes and Villains (Stromboli) lists. The song "When You Wish Upon A Star" ranked number 7 on their 100 Songs list, and the film ranked 38th in the 100 Cheers list. The quote "A lie keeps growing and growing until it's as plain as the nose on your face" was nominated for the Movie Quotes list, and the film received further nomination in the AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals list.
On Rotten Tomatoes, a website which aggregates film reviews, the film has the website's highest rating of 100%, meaning every single one of the 45 reviews of the film, from contemporaneous reviews to modern re-appraisals, on the site are positive with an average rating of 9.1 out of 10. The general consensus of the film on the site is "Ambitious, adventurous, and sometimes frightening, Pinocchio arguably represents the pinnacle of Disney's collected works - it's beautifully crafted and emotionally resonant."
With the re-release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1944 came the tradition of re-releasing Disney films every seven to ten years. Pinocchio was theatrically re-released in 1945, 1954, 1962, 1971, 1978, 1984, and 1992. RKO handled the first two reissues in 1945 and 1954, while Disney itself reissued the film from 1962 on through its Buena Vista Distribution division.
In 1985, it was released on VHS in North America for the first time and on UK VHS in 1988 for the first time. The 1992 re-issue was digitally restored by cleaning and removing scratches from the original negatives one frame at a time, eliminating soundtrack distortions, and revitalizing the color.
The more comprehensive digital restoration that was done for the 1992 re-issue was released on VHS in 1993, followed by its fourth VHS release and first release on Disney DVD in 1999. The second Disney DVD release and final issue in the VHS format premiered as part of the Walt Disney Gold Classics Collection VHS/DVD line on March 7, 2000. A special edition VHS and DVD of the film was released in the United Kingdom on March 3, 2003. The fourth DVD release and first Blu-ray Disc release (the second Blu-ray in the Walt Disney Platinum Editions series) was released on March 10, 2009. Like the 2008 Sleeping Beauty Blu-ray release, the Pinocchio Blu-ray package featured a new restoration by Lowry Digital in a two-disc Blu-ray set, with a bonus DVD version of the film also included. This set returned to the Disney Vault on April 30, 2011. A Signature Edition was released on Digital HD on January 10, 2017 and was followed by a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack on January 31, 2017.
In 1987, Filmation released a "thinly-veiled" animated sequel to Pinocchio, entitled Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night. Set a year after Pinocchio became a real boy, the movie received mainly negative reviews from critics and was a commercial failure. Disney sued Filmation for copyright infringement, but Filmation won the lawsuit on the grounds that Collodi's work is in the public domain.
Many of Pinocchio's characters are meetable characters at Disney parks. Pinocchio's Daring Journey is a popular ride at the original Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Park in Paris. Pinocchio Village Haus is a quick service restaurant at Walt Disney World that serves pizza and macaroni and cheese. There are similar quick-service restaurants at the Disneyland parks in Anaheim and Paris as well, with almost identical names.
Disney on Ice starring Pinocchio, toured internationally from 1987 to 1992. A shorter version of the story is also presented in the current Disney on Ice production "One Hundred Years Of Magic".
Aside from the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, Game Boy, and SNES games based on the animated film, Geppetto and Pinocchio also appear as characters in the game Kingdom Hearts. The inside of Monstro is also featured as one of the worlds. Jiminy Cricket appears as well, acting as a recorder, keeping a journal of the game's progress in Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, and, Kingdom Hearts II. Pinocchio's home world was slated to appear in Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, but was omitted due to time restrictions, although talk-sprites of Pinocchio, Geppetto, Honest John and Gideon have been revealed. As compensation, this world appears in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, under the name "Prankster's Paradise", with Dream world versions of Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket, Geppetto, Cleo, Monstro and the Blue Fairy appearing.
In the mid-2000s, DisneyToon Studios began development on a sequel to Pinocchio. Robert Reece co-wrote the film's screenplay, which saw Pinocchio on a "strange journey" for the sake of something dear to him. "It's a story that leads Pinocchio to question why life appears unfair sometimes," said Reece. John Lasseter cancelled Pinocchio II soon after being named Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2006.
On April 8, 2015, Deadline reported that Disney is developing a live action film based on the animated Pinocchio, with Peter Hedges penning the script. As of May 2017, Sam Mendes is in talks to direct the movie from Chris Weitz's script.