Friday, June 3, 2011
Disney’s “Pinocchio”? Proceed With Caution
Disney's Second Animated Feature - 1940
I’ve shared my thoughts on Disney’s first animated feature, Snow White and found it still has a lot to say to today’s kids. In this installment, I look at Disney’s second feature, Pinocchio, released in 1940 and based on the 19th century Carlo Collodi tale of a marionette who becomes a real boy. I can sum up my reaction with a 19th century nursery rhyme: when it’s good, it’s very, very good. When it’s bad, it’s awful. This is not for young children, at least unsupervised. By today’s standards, I’d give Pinocchio a rating of PG-13 at least.
I’ve Got No Strings.” And it features the most famous Disney song of all, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” that has become the Disney corporation’s theme song. Its animation is particularly stunning, especially the under water sequence when Pinocchio battles the whale Monstro to bravely save his father, Gepetto.
And don’t get me started on the perverse sequence of the “bad boys” on Pleasure Island or as I see it, Entrapment Island. They’re spirited away by an evil Coachman (with the help of the Fox again) and actively encouraged, even enabled into misbehaving. They are then punished for their misdeeds by being morphed into donkeys as their pathetic, frightened cries for “mother” disappear into brays. Then they’re stripped of their clothing and tossed into crates marked with signs suggesting faraway destinations like “sold to salt mine.” As the boys’ crimes were smoking, drinking, and playing billiards, the sarcastic message seems to be, “You REALLY have to wait until you’re twenty-one to do these things or—trust me—you won’t like the consequences.” But in truth, it again feels more like every parent and child’s worst nightmare of abduction and permanent disappearance, the boys literally silenced as they weep for mother and plead for mercy. Once more, the context and circumstances of the abuse are allegorical, deeply cynical, and not easily understood by a child. Even an adult could find these scenes haunting. And the appearance of the Blue Fairy with the power of life and death neither honors nor negates religious belief; it merely confuses the issue. Simply put, a child should not approach this material alone.