(I'd previously reviewed the 70th Anniversary Blu-ray release of Pinocchio here. Parts of this review are taken from the earlier one.)
For many of us, Pinocchio has always existed and it has never aged. Some of this is to the credit of the wonderful and rich animation which exhibits far more character than the comparatively inferior work we've witnessed the past few decades. These very first feature length animated productions look like works of art while the medium now has all the depth of a slick lithograph. Even the reemergence of Disney animation in the 1990s couldn't compete visually with the earlier features. The less said about some of the sassy and soulless contemporary cartoons the better. One wonders how many we'll still be watching three-quarters of a century in the future.
There are particular scenes in Pinocchio which get the most attention like the Monstro the Whale finale, but the sheer detail of Geppetto's work space or the perfect mood struck by the Pleasure Island exteriors is (still) extraordinary. All the hand drawn charm lacking from computer animation is perfectly intact on Pinocchio. Just as the careful and deliberate craftsmanship shown by Geppetto has dried up with modernity's cheaper and faster methods, so too has the art of feature animation lost much of its warmth. The sincerity found in Pinocchio, and especially in the title character, is refreshing. There's an unironic straightforwardness that seems to be missing in most modern animation.
To be fair, it wasn't like there were films of Pinocchio's calibre dropping from the sky with any frequency even back in 1940 when the picture was first released. This was Walt Disney's second full-length production, after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and he had minimal competition in that market. He also wasn't dependent on the whims of the littlest of popcorn munchers. The supplements for this release mention more than once that Disney never meant for his films to be aimed solely at children. They were and are for general audiences, with Pinocchio possibly the most mature and adult of any of the classic Disney films. As anyone who watched wide-eyed as a child will be unlikely to forget, children transform into jackasses before our very eyes. Pinocchio and his new friend Lampwick smoke cigars, drink beer and play pool until the former sprouts large ears and a tail and the latter, in a frightening scene, changes into a donkey while a terrified Pinocchio bears witness. It's still shocking and nightmarish to see scared kids turned into donkeys and shipped off in crates.
The movie's episodic format allows for increasingly bold and harsh sequences that nonetheless progress naturally as Pinocchio has his innocence tested en route to becoming a real boy. From "When You Wish Upon a Star" and the Blue Fairy to the poor young boy/donkey crying he wants his mommy is quite the journey. Kept inside the 88 minutes of runtime, light and dark bounce off each other to always keep things interesting in addition to being beautifully rendered. The film reminds us of the depths of temptation, the necessity of conscience and the redemptive powers of a second chance. It's Disney's most realistic fantasy, but also the one that particularly trumpets the range of humanity, from the cruel to the mere greedy all the way to the kind and the innocent. There are only about eight characters who speak and each one is remarkably different in both motive and demeanor. The extreme kindness of the Blue Fairy is counteracted by quiet, corrupt evil exemplified by the Coachman. Others like Lampwick and even hobo turned conscience Jiminy Cricket provide the in-between shading.
Situated as the alien innocent at all times is our wooden hero Pinocchio. The vocal performance from Dickie Jones is really the embodiment of endearing purity. The character in Collodi's original story was apparently something of a brat, but Walt Disney made the wise decision to transform him into a sympathetic blank canvas. It seems that the Blue Fairy entrusts Jiminy to look after Pinocchio precisely because the puppet has no grasp of reality. Since the film is so steeped in elements of fantasy, his surprises and entrances to each new world of temptation are very much the viewer's also. We then relate entirely to the disorientation Pinocchio faces. This allows for a much more natural bridging of the gap between our known reality and the animated world created in the film. We align ourselves with the character because of how sympathetic he's portrayed, even in the smoking and drinking portion. It's difficult to blame Pinocchio for his actions when he literally has a head made out of wood.
It's not just the characterization of Pinocchio or the animation or any one thing at all that makes Pinocchio such an enduring and exceptional film. There's a sense of creative energy, of the animators pushing as far as they could while Walt was carefully managing the production. The notion of this film being the ultimate representation of what the studio could achieve is certainly open and ripe for debate. I'm not going to place a star on this or that Disney film as being the best, but there's an easy lack of hesitation in putting Pinocchio in the upper tier.
This particular release of Pinocchio is marketed as part of the "Signature Collection" and features a reproduction of Walt Disney's autograph stamped onto the cover. It is very similar, in both special features and quality, to the earlier 70th Anniversary edition but does boast the first time a Digital HD code has been included for the film. In addition to the Blu-ray disc inside the case, there's also a DVD, and both are region-free.
Here we have the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio being used, though an option for Disney View is included that paints in the black sides of the frame with appropriate background art by Toby Bluth. This sort of makes the film look like it's being shown inside a storybook. The transfer is the same as the 70th Anniversary release, which was quite impressive, if somewhat controversial in certain areas of the internet. Deciphering what's "right" and "wrong" with Disney's animated catalog is especially difficult, since we're debating a movie that opened in cinemas in 1940. This restoration does notably look changed from the previous DVD release, which was heavy on the reds, yellows and oranges, but the result seems to be an obvious and drastic improvement. Colours and shades here are very mood-appropriate, and they at least look accurately reproduced.
All things, opinions and realities considered, I see the colors as dazzling. There's a retention of the handcrafted nature of the film's production while still utilizing the best of modern restoration technology. The drybrush work on Figaro sparkles with charm, a reminder that human hands were involved. It's really an impressive balance of updating the movie for high definition without placing too slick of a coating on it. The Blu-ray transfer is almost equally on target. I wonder what a little extra grain might have looked like because nearly all of it's been scrubbed away. The picture looks very smooth and clean, completely absent any damage.
The primary English language audio option on the Blu-ray is a 7.1 DTS-HDMA track. It sounds quite strong, with effects and dialogue balanced nicely. A Restored Original Soundtrack is also included, preserving the mono originally recorded for the movie. Dubs were omitted from the previous BD but are available here, with Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and French 7.1 DTS-HDHR options present. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired, Spanish and French.
A stacked release, this Signature Collection edition of Pinocchio has a small handful of new bonuses while also retaining the extras from the 70th Anniversary release. Here's what's new:
"The Pinocchio Project: 'When You Wish Upon a Star'" - an introduction (2:49) that still doesn't make entirely clear who these people being shown are, which then leads to their version (3:03) of the classic song from the film
"Walt's Story Meetings: Pleasure Island" (7:14) - background information on the history of this sequence, including some of Walt's insistence to make it darker than the original "Boobyland" that had been planned. Pixar director Pete Docter is interviewed.
"In Walt's Words: Pinocchio" (4:48) - audio recording from 1956 that has Disney touch on a few things surrounding and related to the Pinocchio production.
"Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in 'Poor Papa'" (5:19) - a rare animated short from 1928 showcasing Walt's black and white, pre-feature days in which his star character ends up with a never-ending supply of new deliveries from the stork.
These supplements previously found on the 70th Anniversary edition have been carried over here:
"Audio commentary by Leonard Maltin, Eric Goldberg, and J.B. Kaufman" - a highly listenable track with all three men providing some good points. Sprinkled throughout are clips from animators like Ward Kimball, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. It's not surprising that some of the information is repeated from the excellent making-of documentary found on disc two, but there's enough solid conversation to keep fans interested.
"Disney Song Selection" - lets you jump to the songs found in the film, with the added option of viewing the lyrics on the screen. The songs included are: "When You Wish Upon a Star" (2:02), "Little Wooden Head" (2:11), "Give a Little Whistle" (1:38), "Hi-Deedle-Dee-Dee" (1:29), and "I've Got No Strings" (2:55).
"'When You Wish Upon a Star' performed by Meaghan Jette Martin" (3:25)
"No Strings Attached: The Making of Pinocchio" (56:04) - an essential watch and the apex of these extras. It's as laudatory as one might expect, but there's a very tidy assortment of information, from the origins of the story to the voices, the animators, the songs and score, and so on, to be found in the piece. If you're not crazy about wading through all the fluff, just watch this making-of documentary and you'll be set.
"Deleted Scenes" (10:36) - some sketches and storyboards illuminate a pair of sequences that were nixed prior to the full animation process. An explanatory introduction (1:00) is followed by fragments from "The Story of the Grandfather Tree" (3:20) and more elaborate sketches of the "In the Belly of the Whale" (4:15) scenes that were abandoned. A rough alternate ending (2:00) is also here.
"The Sweatbox" (6:24) - shows Walt Disney's practice of using a small screening room to view his animators' work. Walt would critique what he saw as the artists nervously listened and a secretary transcribed the events. The featurette has one particular transcript concerning Pinocchio being read from while a weird reenactment plays. Neat in idea, but flat in execution.
"Live Action Reference Footage" (9:58) - rare, black and white video from the Disney archives that was used by animators to draw various characters in the film.
"Publicity" - three separate trailers, including the original 1940 trailer (2:00), as well as 1984 and 1992 re-release versions (1:30 each).
"Geppettos Then and Now" (10:57) - looks at a handful of toymakers from around the world, everyone from a British man who specialises in wooden toys to a Czech lady who makes puppets. It's enjoyable enough to forgive Disney's shameless spotlighting of interactive Wall-E products.
There are also some much older bonuses from the early days of DVD that are still in standard definition. These are "Pinocchio: A Wish Come True" (5:06) and a quick Storyboard to Film Comparison (4:04).
Additionally, Sneak Peeks can be watched for, among other things, the live-action Beauty and the Beast movie, Moana, and the Disneynature documentary Born in China