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Pinocchio (CAV Laserdisc)

Back in the early 1990s, during the heyday of laserdisc (remember laserdiscs?!?), I shelled out a ton of money for a number of my favorite movies on laserdisc. Laserdiscs are effectively worthless these days thanks to DVD (and I shelled out $120 for a Japanese import laserdisc of Peter Gabriel!); however, there are still a few laserdiscs in my collection that I prize even today. Pinocchio is definitely one of those discs. I wrote the following for the TOON Echo in Fidonet on April 9, 1993:

The Disney money-making machine is pulling out the stops once again: it's time to open your wallet and shell out $100 for the new CAV deluxe laserdisc edition of Pinocchio. Here's a laserdisc that fans have been waiting for more than almost any other Disney film - because this is not the first laserdisc release. The movie was issued on laserdisc back in the mid-1980s, before discs were well-known. There are still copies of that version of Pinocchio in existence, but they're so rare that their owners guard them jealously. I've tried to find a Pinocchio laserdisc ever since I first received my disc player back in 1990, with no luck. I'd given up the search as impossible, and I was overjoyed when I learned that there would be a "deluxe" laserdisc re-iseue in 1993.

But $100 is a high price to pay for any disc - even Pinocchio. The question on everyone's mind is, simply, "is it worth the price?"

Unlike the deluxe laserdisc of Fantasia, released a year and a half ago, the disc of Pinocchio is divided into several individually wrapped packages; each part can be taken out separately. The movie itself is on a two-disc set, with a cover identical to the CLV laserdisc issue, while the "making of" show is separately packaged on a laserdisc with a red cover. But despite this, the discs are wrapped in those idiotic cellophane sleeves that wrinkle and fold and can never be properly placed back into the disc cover! Whoever came up with this bright idea should be taken out, tortured, and shot.

The individual packaging allows the owner of the disc to examine each part separately. Since we've already seen Pinocchio the movie, we'll get into the additional material first, beginning with Pinocchio: The Making of a Masterpiece.

Unlike the "making of" disc included with Fantasia, this supplement is entirely in CAV. The first side of the disc, however, is a shamelessly self-congratulatory mini-documentary on the making of Pinocchio that plugs Disney's newest animated films, especially Beauty and the Beast, as much as it talks about Walt's masterpiece. It's hosted by Robby Benson, who voiced the Beast in the 1991 movie, and it goes through the motions of a made-by-Disney documentary, giving us the usual "Walt was a genius! His film was a masterpiece! Nothing in animation mattered until Walt turned his almighty gaze upon it!" dreck that we see all the time on the Disney Channel, while barely scratching the surface of the actual making of Pinocchio. The less said about this piece, the better; the best praise that one can give it is it's in CAV, so you can pause and examine the brief scenes other Disney classics, including SNOW WHITE and Lady and the Tramp, as well as taking a look at the computer-animated ballroom sequence of Beauty and the Beast one frame at a time.

The second side of the disc is far more interesting. It includes dozens of conceptual drawings and tests for Pinocchio, tracing the evolution of the film's characters from original concept to their final evolution. There are frames depicting the entire newspaper comic strip adaptation of the film first published in 1940s; there's a fifteen-minute sequence from the film itself that splits the TV screen into halves: on the bottom is the movie, and on the top the pencil sketches and concept drawings used to create those scenes are shown, one at a time, simultaneously. It's a fascinating comparison, and animation buffs will treasure this. What's more, three theatrical trailers are included on the disc: the original 1940 trailer (the quality is much better than the trailer for Fantasia, but the trailer itself is quite poor), the 1984 theatrical re-issue, and the 1992 re-issue (the last of which seems to pander to the young children in the audience more than the others). This side of the disc redeems the awful first side, and it's worth looking at again and again.

Much better than the documentary is the 28-page booklet "The Making of a Masterpiece: Pinocchio." Written by Jim Fanning, this is a wonderful essay on the work that went into the making of this classic motion picture, from the original story by Collodi (he wrote it under a pseudonym to pay off a gambling debt) through its various incarnations to Disney's final form. The booklet gives us a detailed description of the making of the film, the animation techniques used, the histories of the animators and voice actors, lots of pencil sketches, drawings, paintings, and much more.

In addition, a compact disc of the film soundtrack is included. The quality of the sound, after fifty years, is remarkable: according to the "Making Of" booklet, the original soundtrack was considered lost until it was discovered in a vault at the Disney archives. This soundtrack is taken from a magnetic tape transfer made in the 1950s of the original score, and it's hauntingly beautiful. It sounds much better than the restored soundtrack to Fantasia; even though it's in mono, it's delightfully crisp and clear. I didn't buy the Pinocchio soundtrack compact disc that was released to music stores last year, but if it sounds anything like this then I can highly reccomend it.

There's also an "authentic lithograph" of the Blue Fairy, taken from one of the concept paintings used in the making of the film, but it's unremarkable. Disney must include these things in their packages because they think that they'll be collector's items at some time in the future. The picture looks nice, but it's hardly worth commenting on.

All of these additions make Pinocchio a package worth having for any animation fan or Disney fan, but of course they're just the icing on the cake. The real reason for paying $100 for the disc is to see the restored version of the film on CAV laserdisc – and the movie makes it all worth the cost! I've talked about Pinocchio in the past, and I won't go over the same ground about how it's a wonderfully entertaining, exciting, thrilling, lavishly detailed and awesome piece of motion picture making. Suffice to say that Disney's restoration of the film makes it worthwhile. The picture is amazingly crisp and clear, the sound is wonderful, and the combination of the two is utterly enchanting. It took me several hours to get through the disc of the film, because I kept freezing the images to examine them in detail and look at the animation in slow-motion. I was in awe when I re-discovered the magic of Pinocchio a few years ago, when I first began studying animation in-depth, and seeing the film in CAV, to examine it at my leisure, made it seem as though I was watching the movie for the first time once again.

This makes the CAV disc of Pinocchio a treasure to be prized by collectors of animation. Pinocchio flopped at the box office when it was re-released to theaters last summer (it "only" made about $20 million, compared to the $50 million dug up by 101 Dalmatians the year before), and this was undoubtedly a factor in the re-issuing of the film on video. When the video release was announced, at first Disney denied that there would be any CAV laserdisc release at all; but the details of this disc show that a lot of work went into it. Perhaps the poor box-office performance of the film made the Corporate Execs worry that an expensive CAV laserdisc would be a financial disaster - if few people saw the film, then few people would buy the disc. Fortunately, wisdom prevailed, and we can now view this timeless classic on our own terms.

It's definitely different from the deluxe laserdisc of Fantasia, but on the whole, the deluxe CAV disc of Pinocchio is an improvement on Disney's first "deluxe" edition. The additional material makes this package a must-have for animation collectors and Disney fans alike. The idiotic "Making of" documentary is sure to be broadcast on the Disney Channel soon, but the other extras are worth going out of your way to obtain.

And of course, the film itself is one of Walt Disney's greatest achievements. Again and again the word "masterpiece" is used to describe this movie, so much so that a cynic would wonder if it's all worth it. But the painstaking effort that went into the film pays off handsomely: it's a film unlike any other, and truly one of the greatest movies of all time.

Yes, folks, it's true: Pinocchio is indeed a Masterpiece.