Pinocchio has to be one of the most surreal feature Disney movies (ie, not Fantasia) up until Alice in Wonderland. Foulfellow and Gideon, a talking fox and his mute cat friend, are never explained and never given a second glance by the characters. Pleasure Island turns kids into donkeys, again, with no real explanation. It also doesn’t really have a single villain so much as 3 successive ones, two of whom really just go with their plans and then exit the movie. It’s also one of the darkest Disney movies in tone and content. Characters smoke, drink, curse, and destroy things.
And yet it all holds up incredibly well. I guess it’s pointless to discuss the plot at this point. Pinocchio is a puppet, he comes to life, and then goes to become a real boy with the help of Jiminy Cricket. It’s a simple story, but it helps to project the characters through the movie. Pinocchio is the pinnacle of innocence, not understanding at all when he’s being tricked. On the flip side, Jiminy Cricket isn’t nearly as squeaky clean as his image has become. He lets Pinocchio screw up from time to time, and tries to save his own skin at one point. But through their journeys they both learn enough about the world for Pinocchio to become a real boy.
What really makes the movie really work 70 years later is that Disney touch, starting with the gags. There is simply no gag missed any time there’s an opportunity for one. A bunch of clocks go off in Gepetto’s workshop, each with a gag within themselves. After several minutes of it, we cut back to Gepetto, who wonders what time it is. It’s such a simple gag, but it works so well. When Pinocchio and Jiminy walk the sea floor, they encounter various fish, ask them where Monstro is, and then the fish run off. In some movies, this could get tedious. Here, it’s witty enough and well animated enough to keep the viewer’s interest.
And the animation is just incredible. Early on, one of the spinning winders in Gepetto’s workshop looks like something you would expect out of CGI. The colors that come throughout the entire movie shine off the screen, from the life on the sea floor to Pleasure Island, which turns significantly darker as its true purpose comes around. Figaro acts like a cat, Jiminy is given incredible life with every motion. Even the transformed Pinocchio manages to break through the uncanny valley and still look good instead of creepy. It’s clear the movie has been well preserved and cleaned up, and it deserves it.
And finally, there’s the songs. They’re all winners and very catchy. There’s Give A Little Whistle, where Jiminy uses Gepetto’s workshop as his instrument. I Got No Strings, a dance number with Pinocchio and various marionette puppets, the biggest choreographed number. And, of course, When You Wish Upon a Star, a relatively simple song that remains a classic after all these years.