Without a doubt, the best movie you could see in the theatre this summer--indeed, almost amy summer--is the re-release of Walt Disney's Pinocchio. I know it's a cliche to say this, but this time it's true: they don't make movies like this anymore.
Walt Disney's greatest animated feature films were Fantasia and Pinocchio, yet neither of them proved to be the big box-office hit that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was. Over the years, of course, Pinocchio has since come into its own, but until now, we have rarely if ever had a chance to see it the way it was meant to be seen: in the theatre. While this movie was released on video several years ago (and is widely available in rental stores), seeing it on your TV screen just isn't the same. Some movies deserve to be on the big screen, and Pinocchio is one of them.
Everything about this movie is perfect. The animation is awe- inspiring, and the opening sequence in Gepetto's toy shop is one of the finest animated sequences ever filmed--probably topped only by the "Nutcracker Suite" segment of Fantasia. To think that the Disney artists did all this by hand, with no help at all from computers…it staggers the imagination. Disney's achievement is even more impressive when one realizes that what we see on the screen is not what the Disney Studios first began with. Five months into the production of Pinocchio, Walt Disney was unsatisfied with the result of his studio's work, and he shut down production to make major changes. Essentially, Disney started the production of this movie over from scratch, throwing out hundreds of thousands of dollars of completed material. No studio today would be so quality-conscious as to abandon a completed production; the lost money would be considered a waste, and more than likely the studio would try to work the old footage in with the new in order to save it. (Look at ALIEN 3--this was a patchwork job to end all patchworks.) But as happened so often in his life, Disney's gamble paid off. Pinocchio is one of those few works that can genuinely be called a Masterpiece.
Who can forget the first appearance of the Blue Fairy? Who isn't moved when he hears the immortal song "When You Wish Upon A Star"? Gepetto's kindly old father figure is never tiresome, even when he acts foolish; Figaro the cute little kitten is a charmer (and never treacly cute). This was the movie that forever associated the phrase "Jiminy Cricket" with Disney--and indeed, Jiminy is more of a world-wise soul here than in many of his later appearances. (And he's surprisingly lecherous, too!) And Pinocchio, the little wooden puppet who falls for temptation, is charmingly naive. We all remember these characters, and here's your chance to remember why we love them all.
However, parents taking very young children to the theatre should be warned: In Pinocchio, as in no other Disney movie, Disney gives us the dark side of this fairy tale, and his vision is so intense that young children could easily be frightened. Leonard Maltin describes the movie: "If Snow White was a fairy tale laced with moments of terror, Pinocchio was an extended nightmare with occasional humorous interludes." Never again after Pinocchio did Disney allow such moments of danger and terror into his movies--and they suffered as a result. The transformation of Lampwick into a jackass is genuinely chilling, and the final chase with Monstro the Whale is one of the most terrifying moments in motion picture history. When I saw this movie in the theatre, some little children started screaming during the finale--and Pinocchio's death scene sent them over the edge. Gepetto's mourning for Pinocchio is truly heartfelt. I've seen Pinocchio several times now, and this final scene still brings tears to my eyes. It's probably the most heart-touching death scene ever filmed--a feat that wouldn't be equalled until E.T. died, over forty years later.
Some parents may hesitate to let their children see Pinocchio, because their children may be too sensitive for it. I personally believe that this is the perfect movie for any child to see--if he or she is ready for it. All too often, makers of so-called "children's movies" hesitate to add strong emotional sequences because they're afraid to frighten the kids. Even Disney fell into this trap of self-censorship with such movies as Peter Pan, where Captain Hook gives Peter a bomb instead of poisoning his milk, and where Hook escapes at the end instead of being eaten by the crocodile. Kids are far more resilient than many people think they are, and while they may be scared by Pinocchio, they certainly won't be scarred for life by this movie. In fact, the very way in which Pinocchio presents the terrors of the real world to children--being led from the straight and narrow path by strangers, learning the consequences of getting into trouble--makes it a genuine learning experience for youngsters, as well as being tremendous entertainment.
So I say, let the children see Pinocchio. This is one of the greatest movies ever made. It's heart-warming, funny, exciting, and terrifying--and they just don't make movies like this anymore.