September 24, 2014


Pinocchio, the film, is greater than Pinocchio, the book. Nevertheless, it is well worth while to experience both. Little is known of Carlo Lorenzini other than his authorship of this one book. He was born in 1826 in Italy and died in 1890. The book was published under the penname Carlo Collodi, as Le avventure di Pinnochio in 1882.

I personally held off reading this book until only recently. Even in translation the text is simplistic and lacking any kind of narrative beauty. Just simple Anglo-Saxon sentences telling the story in plain words any child could understand.

The print story would be plenty scary to a child, but the film is one of the most terrifying films (to a child) ever made. According to Disney scholar, Christopher Finch, Pinnochio is probably Disney’s greatest film.

After the incredible world-wide success of Snow White, Disney had a lion by the tail: he not only had to keep all his raw talent busy and happy but also figure out how he was going to pay them all. Over 750 artists, 80 musicians, 1,500 shades of color, and one-million drawings were involved in bringing Pinnochio to life.

Back in the Depression years [released in 1940] when it was created, the film cost $2,600,000; today its cost would be staggering. To give you an example, just the multiplane scene where the camera zooms down on the village with school bells ringing and pigeons gradually circling down to houses—only a few seconds worth—cost $45,000!

The plot: how a little wooden puppet must prove himself worthy of becoming a real boy. The film itself is characterized by action,  Scan_Pic0116excitement, and terror rather than humor. As a case in point, William K. Everson considers the scene where Lampwick turns into a donkey (it all starts, almost as a joke, with long ears; he begs Pinocchio to help him as his hands turn into hoofs. As he becomes more frantic, the music grows louder and more discordant. Finally, with the metamorphosis almost complete, he screams “Mama!!,” his cry turning into a loud bray as we see the finishing touches of his shadow on the wall) to be one of the screen’s supreme moments of horror.

The Monstro (whale) sequence is another of the film’s highlights. And Stromboli is generally considered to be one of Disney’s greatest villains. One of the film’s most amazing pieces of animation, from a technical standpoint, occurs when Pinocchio is trapped in a cage inside Stromboli’s wagon. The wagon is moving and Pinocchio is inside the swinging cage, while lightning flashes outside cause changes in color and shadow!

In Pinocchio, Disney reached not only the height of his powers but the apex of what critics consider the realm of the animated cartoon.

Strangely enough, in spite of its magnificent animation, it was the music that garnered the Academy Awards: “Best Original Musical Score” and “Best Song” (“When You Wish Upon a Star”), which has since become Disney’s most symbolic song.

So in conclusion, you should both read the book and experience the movie. The book was published in 1927 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Many reprints have followed.

Reflections on “Saving Mr. Banks”

January 8, 2014

Rarely does a modern film affect me like this one does. A film that refuses to go away: continuing to churn and churn and churn in the conscious and subconscious strata of my mind. It has affected my wife Connie and son Greg in the same way, but for individualized reasons.

There are so many layers, so many dimensions, in the film. That surprised me no little given that most of the reviews I’d read didn’t even mention anything but the most obvious aspect–telegraphed by the film title–the intense tug of war between Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) and P. L. Travers (the author of the Mary Poppins books – played by Emma Thompson). For twenty years, Walt Disney had been urging the author to permit him and his studio to make the Poppins story into a movie. All in vain: Travers adamantly refused to let such a thing happen–at any price.

Supposedly, the movie is the story of Travers’ trip to California from Australia, and the fascinating story of how one irresistible force fought another irresistible force.

Yet, the Disney/Travers saga is not really what Director John Lee Hancock and scriptwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith considered most important, but rather the flashbacks from Travers’ childhood in Australia. The movie-goer is never permitted to lose sight of the story behind the story: the Peter Pan-ish father (Travers Goff – powerfully played by Colin Farrell) who is idolized by his daughter, Helen Goff [in the film, Annie Rose Buckley so fills the screen with her mesmerizing face that, stealing scene after scene, she all but runs away with the movie]. Movingly portrayed is her father’s descent into an alcoholic hell that destroys his daughter’s childhood Camelot.  Her mother is suicidal.  In the end, how does the little-girl-grown-up handle the inner torment resulting from an adored father gone bad?

It is this inner torment that brings the movie to its unforgettable conclusion–for not until Travers is brought to a face-to-face confrontation with her father through the magic of film flashbacks is she able to at last cast off the shackles that had heretofore precluded any chance of real happiness in her life. According to reviewer Margy Rochlin, however, though that was true in the movie, it was not so in real life.  And that Travers’ grandchildren maintained that she died not loving anyone and nobody loving her.

I personally believe that time will prove Saving Mr. Banks to be a cinematic masterpiece.