Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Pinocchio


Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.” (This was originally posted on the Disqus site)


Title: Pinocchio

Year: 1940

Budget: $2,600,000 (estimated)

Gross: $84,300,000 (USA)

Directed by: Ben Sharsteen and Hamilton Luske

Plot: Woodworker Geppetto finishes making a wooden marionette whom he names Pinocchio, and makes a wish on a star that Pinocchio be a real boy. During the night, the Blue Fairy brings Pinocchio to life, although he still remains a puppet. She informs him that if he proves himself brave, truthful, and unselfish, he will become a real boy, and assigns Jiminy Cricket to be his conscience.


Geppetto is overwhelmed with joy, and sends Pinocchio to school. However, Pinocchio is led astray by Honest John the Fox and his companion, Gideon the Cat, who convince him to join Stromboli’s puppet show. Pinocchio becomes Stromboli’s star attraction as a marionette who can sing and dance without strings. At the end of the night, Stromboli locks him in a birdcage.

The Blue Fairy appears, and asks Pinocchio why he was not at school. He lies, which causes his nose to grow longer and longer. Pinocchio vows to be good from now on, and the Blue Fairy returns his nose to its original form and sets him free, while warning him that this will be the last time she can help him.

Honest John and Gideon convince Pinicchio that he needs to take a vacation to Pleasure Island. He befriends Lampwick, a delinquent boy. Jiminy discovers that the boys brought to Pleasure Island are transformed into donkeys. Jiminy runs back to warn Pinocchio, only to discover that Lampwick has transformed into a donkey; Pinocchio manages to escape, only partially transformed.

They soon get a letter from the blue fairy as a dove, stating that Geppetto had ventured out in search of Pinocchio, but was swallowed by a giant sperm whale named Monstro, and is now living in his belly. Pinocchio is soon swallowed by Monstro as well, where he is reunited with Geppetto. Pinocchio devises a scheme to make Monstro sneeze, giving them a chance to escape. Geppetto and Jiminy survive, but Pinocchio lies motionless face down in a tide pool nearby.

The Blue Fairy, however, decides that Pinocchio has proven himself brave, truthful, and unselfish, that he is reborn as a real human boy . Jiminy steps outside to thank the Fairy, and is rewarded with a solid gold badge that certifies him as an official conscience.


Source: The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi.

Creation: In Collodi’s original novel, Pinocchio is a cold, rude, ungrateful, inhuman creature. The writers decided to soften the character, and make him more lovable, depicting him similar to Edgar Bergen’s dummy Charlie McCarthy. Early scenes animated by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston show that Pinocchio’s design was exactly like that of a real wooden puppet with a long pointed nose, a peaked cap and bare wooden hands. Milt Kahl re-envisioned the character by making him look more like a real boy, with a child’s Tyrolean hat and standard cartoon character four-fingered (or three and a thumb) hands with Mickey Mouse-type gloves on them. The only parts of Pinocchio that still looked more or less like a puppet were his arms, legs and his little button wooden nose.

Originally the cricket was only a minor character that Pinocchio killed by squashing him with a mallet and that later returned as a ghost. Disney dubbed the cricket Jiminy, and made him into a character that would try to guide Pinocchio into the right decisions. Once the character was expanded, he was depicted as a realistic cricket with toothed legs and waving antennae, but Disney wanted something more likable. Ward Kimball conjured up the design for Jiminy Cricket, whom he described as a little man with an egg head and no ears.”The only thing that makes him a cricket is because we call him one,” Kimball later joked.

The model makers built working models of Geppetto’s cuckoo clocks, as well as Stromboli’s gypsy wagon and the Coachman’s carriage.

They used a Multi-plane camera, invented for Snow White. It moves a number of pieces of artwork past the camera at various speeds and at various distances from one another. This creates a three-dimensional effect. Various parts of the artwork layers are left transparent, to allow other layers to be seen behind them. The movements are calculated and photographed frame-by-frame, with the result being an illusion of depth by having several layers of artwork moving at different speeds – the further away from the camera, the slower the speed. The multiplane effect is sometimes referred to as a parallax process.


The film also advanced the arts of effects animation (which is everything that moves other than the characters). Effects animator Sandy Strother kept a diary about his year-long animation of the water effects, which included splashes, ripples, bubbles, waves and the illusion of being underwater. To help give depth to the ocean, the animators put more detail into the waves on the water surface in the foreground, and put in less detail as the surface moved further back. After the animation was traced onto cels, the animators would trace it once more with blue and black pencil leads to give the waves a sculptured look. When creating The Little Mermaid, animators used his process as a guide.

Voice Actors: Walt Disney decided that he wanted to use notable celebrities for the voices. Clifford Edwards (Jiminy Cricket) was a popular vaudeville performer, and helped popularize the ukulele. He introduced the song “Singing in the Rain,” and appeared in the Gershwin Broadway musical Lady Be Good


Dickie Jones (Pinocchio) having been billed at the age of four as the “World’s Youngest Trick Rider and Trick Roper” performing in Westerns well into the 60s. Evelyn Venable (The Blue Fairy) was the original model for the Columbia Pictures logo

Disney filled out the cast with vetern actors Christian Rub (Gepetto) and Walter Catlitt (Honest John). The cast also featured a few legends of animation. Legenday voice actor Mel Blanc played both Gideon and Figaro. Clarence Nash (Donald Duck) and Thurl Ravenscroft (Tony the Tiger, among many others) also provided voices.

Critical Reception:

Pinocchio received positive reviews, although it was not a box-office success. Of the film’s $2.289 million negative cost – twice the cost of Snow White – Disney only recouped $1 million by late 1940, with studio reports of the film’s final original box office take varying between $1.4 million and $1.9 million. The outbreak of World War Two cut Disney off from the European and Asian markets. However, reissues in the years after World War II proved more successful, and allowed the film to turn a profit. By 1973, the film had earned $13 million from the initial 1940 release and four reissues. Pinocchio’s lifetime gross is $84,254,167 at the box office.

In 1994, Pinocchio was added to the United States National Film Registry as being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” The film won the Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score, the first Disney film to win either.


Legacy: Many of Pinocchio’s characters are meetable characters at Disney parks. Pinocchio’s Daring Journey is a popular ride at the original Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Park in Paris. The Storyland boats take you through the mouth of Monstro. Pinocchio Village Haus is a quick service restaurant at Walt Disney World that serves pizza and macaroni and cheese. “When you Wish Upon a Star” has become a jazz standard, recorded by everyone from Louis Armstrong to Gene Simmons. The song ” There are no Strings on Me” was used in the film Avengers: Age of Ultron.