Pinocchio was one of the few movies I had on VHS as a child (kids, VHS was what came before the thing that came before Blu Ray). I watched it frequently, because as I recall my limited other options included Bambi and Old Yeller. I’m sure there were others, but those are the three that really stick out in my head. Apparently my father really didn’t want me asking for either a pet or a little brother.
Here’s some trivia for you: Pinocchio has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and in 1994 was added to the United States National Film Registry for being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Here’s some information that doesn’t really count as trivia, but I think it’s relevant: I think Pinocchio is a terrible movie that teaches terrible values.
*****Spoilers incoming, for a 77 year old movie based on a centuries old folktale that has become an institution in most childhoods.*****
I have no beef with the initial premise. Geppetto is lonely and wishes he had a son so he makes a wish on a star. A fairy hears that wish and while Geppetto sleeps grants it, bringing his puppet to life. She gives a cricket named Jiminy the responsibility of being the new puppet’s conscience, since he’s essentially a newborn and has no sense of morality or ethics. I’m on board so far. But it’s at this point that my issues begin.
First, Geppetto sends Pinocchio to school the next day. Just sends him on his way with his cricket companion. Doesn’t walk him down there, just sends this newly created supernatural golem and the animal familiar he just met to go mingle with children and townspeople who have never seen something like this. While I accept Geppetto believes in the inherent goodness of this talking wooden monstrosity, there is no reason anyone else would. Also, he’s sending this thing to school the day after it was born. Maybe conduct a few assessments to see what it already knows. It is a spirit dragged forth from the fairy realm, just because it’s in the body of a child doesn’t mean it is one. This “kid” living in old Italy might know how to create cold fusion. By the way, I mean the scientific principle, not the cocktail containing Bacardi white, V8 Fusion, and ice. Although he might also know how to do that. What I’m saying is the kid shouldn’t have gone to school period, but if he was going to go, Geppetto should have escorted him there for his first day.
“But Dan! this is definitely a fairy tale world where the supernatural exists, even if it’s not common. Pinocchio is lead astray by a talking fox and cat who convince him to join the puppet show!” That’s true, there is definitely a supernatural element to this world. However, Pinocchio becomes the star attraction of this puppet show because he is a puppet that has no strings. So clearly he’s an aberration of the norm, even if the norm is slightly more mystical than our real world. It’s as a direct result of this that Pinocchio is locked in a cage and visited again by the Blue Fairy, and we get the famous scene where his nose grows. The Blue Fairy lets Pinocchio out of his cage because he promises to be good in the future, and he goes home. That’s it, no consequences for his actions except some temporary nose growth. You’ve got this possessed toy who knows so little of right and wrong that you had to give him an external conscience, but you trust automatically when he says he’s learned his lesson and will behave from now on.
The next time Pinocchio is supposed to go to school, he instead runs off to Pleasure Island with a buddy and drinks and smokes and cavorts until he starts turning into a donkey. He escapes with Jiminy and when he gets home finds out Geppetto has gone missing while searching for him. To get him back, Pinocchio gets himself swallowed by the same whale and tricks the whale into sneezing. In the resulting action sequence, Pinocchio is “killed” but Geppetto survives with Jiminy. The Blue Fairy determines that the preceding course of events is enough to merit Pinocchio’s transformation into a real boy, then gives Jiminy a medal and a promotion to official conscience.
There are so many problems with this part of the movie. First off, if your kid skips school and gets literally kidnapped by sideshow freaks, you walk him to school the next day. What the hell, Geppetto? So many wood carving projects to do that you can’t find the time to walk your truancy prone earthbound spirit to school? This is a kid who saw there are no lasting consequences to not going to school, so of course he skipped it. He promised to be good, not go to school. And if there are no consequences for the bad behavior, why wouldn’t he think skipping school was being good? In fact, at this point anything that doesn’t land him in a cage could conceivably be considered good behavior.
Next, in the beginning Pinocchio is told that he will turn into a real boy when he proves himself “brave, truthful, and unselfish.” I don’t see how going to rescue your father figure from a situation you caused is any of those things. Sure, he could have stayed home, but fixing problems you caused entirely by yourself is kind of the bare minimum of not being a complete shitbag. All Pinocchio did was go rescue the only human he knows from a dangerous scenario that would never have happened if Pinocchio had followed instructions.
Finally, I haven’t said a lot about Jiminy Cricket so far. I’ve mentioned him in passing a few times, but so far I haven’t really discussed his impact on the story. That’s because he didn’t have one. Jiminy Cricket was such a non factor to the story that in the original folktale, Pinocchio kills him as soon as they meet. This is a character who did absolutely nothing to move the story, and is then rewarded at the end. He’s supposed to be Pinocchio’s conscience, his moral compass to lead him down the right path, and he fails literally every time. He doesn’t manage to convince the kid to go to school even after skipping the first time got him kidnapped. If the PTSD didn’t get him to go to school, a gentle nudge from his conscience should have been all it took. But no, the haunted doll skips again and literally starts turning into a donkey. This conscience was so bad at his job he allowed transfiguration to occur. And then at the end he gets a medal and a promotion.
The true lesson of Pinocchio is that it doesn’t matter what you do, you’ll get what you want in the end. No matter how bad a person you are, no matter how bad you are at your job, the Blue Fairy will still give you all the rewards you want. Ugh.
I’m thoroughly disgusted. Love and kisses!