Analyzing Disney’s Pinocchio

Plot

(image from Wikipedia)

Pinocchio (1940) is, at its heart, the story of the old woodcutter, Mister Geppetto, whose one wish is for the puppet he has just made to be a real boy. He wishes this on a star. As he’s sleeping, a fairy appears and brings Pinocchio to life. He is still a toy, but the fairy assures him that, if he can prove himself “brave, truthful and unselfish,”someday he will be a real boy.

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The wooden marionette encounters a few problems in this quest, the last of which keeps him away for so long, that Geppetto beings to search the world over. When Pinocchio finally escapes, he finds a letter saying that his father, while alive has been swallowed by a whale. He decides to go into the ocean himself, in search of his father. The two are eventually reunited after significant sacrifice from Pinocchio. As Geppetto cries over his fallen son, the fairy again appears, saying Pinocchio has proven himself brave, truthful and unselfish. She rewards his courage by turning him into a real, human boy.

The Bechdel Test

There are only two female characters in this movie, the fairy and Geppetto’s fish. Neither have names and they never talk to each other. Pinocchio fails all levels of the Bechdel test (although it appears this movie was specifically geared toward little boys, so I’ll let it slide).

Analysis

Geppetto’s Cuckoo Clocks

Mister Geppetto’s home is full of wooden toys. Along with marionettes, he has a large collection of music boxes and cuckoo clocks. While these all appear innocent enough at first, when their hourly chimes went off I was appalled. The first three appear kid friend and feature quacking ducks, buzzing bees and baby birds. After that, we see a butcher trying to slice a Turkey’s head off with an ax. At the last second, the bird moves its head off the tree stump and laughs at the butcher.

Following this spectacle, we see a man shooting a small bird in a tree, a drunk, hiccuping man holding his drink in his hand and a mother spanking her child. Can you image what would happen if Disney showed such things in the movies they make nowadays?

Geppetto’s Wish

I’m sure I saw Pinocchio at least once before, but it never dawned on me that the real story is about Geppetto. He appears to be a lonely old man whose only wish is to have a son. This desire is emphasized when he attempts to search the world over for his missing son. It makes me wonder what kind of life he has lead so far. Did he ever have a wife, and, if so, what happened to her? What has happened in his life that has prevented him from ever having a son before?

I mention this only because I feel there is a lot of sadness in Geppetto’s character. It’s not something the movie focuses on, but I think it plays a huge role in how the story plays out.

Pleasure Island

This was a WTF moment for me. And here I thought the mother-spanking-her-child cuckoo clock was bad. The main villains of the story have a conversation at a bar with another man. When they ask him what his business is, he answers, “I’m collecting stupid, little boys.”

When they question further about what he wants with boys, he responds “I takes them to pleasure island.”

“Ah, Pleasure Island,” the main villain responds. “But the law! Suppose they…”

“Oh, no no no. There’s no risk,” the other man says in a menacing voice. “They never come back as boys!”

Just what are you implying Disney? Are you saying they come back from Pleasure Island as ‘men?’

Don’t Be a Jackass

Pleasure island was not nearly as X-rated as I was thinking. Instead, it’s a place where disobedient boys (aka, those who have run from home) are turned into donkeys. It didn’t dawn on me what this was supposed to symbolize until Jimmy Cricket said, “Go on, laugh! Make a jackass out of yourself.”

My first thought was that of a elementary school kind. Awwwww…. Jimmy said ass! Then I realized, these disobedient boys are turning into asses. They are literally becoming asses. I actually approve of this message to children. Don’t be mean to other and respect your parents. If you don’t, you will turn into an ass when you grow up.

Lessons Learned:

  • Don’t run away from home, kids, and don’t talk to strangers
  • If you are brave, truthful and unselfish, you will be rewarded
  • Being brave, truthful and unselfish prove you to be a real boy/man
  • If you act disrespectful as a child, you will be an ass when you grow up (and life will suck)
  • Therefore, don’t be an ass, kids.
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4 thoughts on “Analyzing Disney’s Pinocchio”

  1. Interesting analysis on Pinnochio! I had the pleasure of taking my nephew to see a live theatre production of this. He loved it and it was quite moving. But I am also inclined to agree with you that the story is at least as much about the old man as Pinnochio. Says a lot, when you think about it, of the child/parent relationship, too, in a way…

    1. I’d love to see this in the theater. Was the story any different from the movie?

      I don’t think you pick up on Geppetto’s story as much as a kid. Now that I’m older and I know people who struggle to have children, I feel his pain. I imagine badly wanting a child of your own and having that blessing denied must be very painful. As an old man, I wonder how long Geppetto had struggled with his dream before Pinnochio.

  2. Brilliant. Love the lessons at the end. Though this was pretty damn disturbing. I remember re-watching Pinnochio when I was in high school or something and being incredibly disturbed by it. I feel similarly about Dumbo. Actually, I don’t even want to think about that movie 😦

    1. Oh no! My plan is to watch all the animated Disney movies (preferably from oldest to newest) and review them every other week… so I’m sure Dumbo will come up. I haven’t seen it since I was a child. Even then, I think I only saw it once.

      Don’t tell me. I’ll discover the madness for myself.

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