Pinocchio was Walt Disney’s second full length animated feature. Using the same filming techniques and much of the same production technology as Snow White, the film secured The Walt Disney Company as North America’s leader in animation.
The story, a blatant morality tale, covers a wooden boy who must learn the difference between right and wrong in order to become “a real boy.” Lying, betrayal and vice all come with physical and often devastating consequences. Stromboli remains one of the cruelest Disney villains to ever see the screen (locking a child in a cold wooden cage and threatening death if he doesn’t make enough money is top-bar villainy even Maleficent would have a hard time matching.)
Pinocchio also introduced the world to one of the most recognizable musical scores ever written: “When You Wish Upon a Star.” The tune even became part of Walt Disney’s open sequence for all subsequent films and is almost synonymous with the Disney brand.
Pinocchio was also the first animated film to win an Academy Award in a competitive category. It won Oscars for both original score and original song. Snow White was the first to win a non-competitive category for significant screen innovation, and was nominated for best score, but did not win.
The story was originally written by an Italian journalist, Carlo Lorenzini. But on the side of his newspaper writing, Lorenzini began to build a reputation as a translator of French fairy tales. He then started to write his own children’s stories. Pinocchio was originally published as The Adventures of Pinocchio between 1881 and 1882. The English translation was first published in 1892.
The film also began a tradition — which Pixar now continues — of teasing future film releases. As Jiminy Cricket sings “When You Wish Upon a Star” he leans against two books, whose covers can be clearly seen. They are Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. Disney had begun working on scripts and story boards for those two films while animators were putting the final touches on Pinocchio.
Pinocchio was not a dream of success for everyone, though. Mel Blanc started his career doing voices in animation — including Porky Pig — and ended his career with Hanna Barbara’s Jetsons movie, released in 1990. Blanc was originally hired to voice Gideon (aka Kitty), even recording an entire script’s worth of dialog. The voice was cut from the film, though, when Walt Disney decided Gideon’s character should be mute. Instead, Blanc’s voice appears only as a general background voice for donkeys and marionettes. The film was Blanc’s only work with the Walt Disney company, except for some voices in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, though he only touched Warner Bros. characters.
Squabbles among staff aside, though, Pinocchio is one of the most endearing morality tales to be released by a major studio in the 21st century. It’s no surprise that Pinocchio was Disney’s first release on DVD.