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Pinocchio: 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition (Blu-ray Review)

1 Mar, 2009 By: John Latchem

Street 3/10/09
$29.99 two-DVD set, $35.99
Rated ‘G.’

Disney knows how to treat its classics right.

Just to demonstrate how much Pinocchio has been transformed for Blu-ray, the viewing experience begins with a gag in which the “Blu Fairy” transforms a dark, scratched, tinny-sounding version of the menu screen into a vibrant, colorful, crisp-sounding high-definition display.

Those Disney engineers sure can’t be faulted for lack of a sense of humor.

From there it’s a full immersion into the world of Pinocchio and the challenges facing Walt Disney in adapting Carlo Collodi’s 1881-83 serialized tale about the woodcarver Geppetto’s magical living puppet who yearns to become a real boy.

Disney’s second full-length animated adventure carried high expectations with its debut, following the enormous success of 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (which hits Blu-ray this fall). As the film that brought us the Disney anthem “When You Wish Upon a Star,” it’s safe to say that Pinocchio certainly lives up to its legacy.

In fact, the process of remastering the 1940 film for Blu-ray may have been a little too good. A near-perfect high-def transfer overwhelms the screen with color, but also exposes some of the rough edges of the old animation styles. On the whole, though, Pinocchio holds up well, especially the underwater sequence of the finale (which was studied nearly 50 years later for The Little Mermaid).

Typical for Disney, the centerpiece of the bonus material is an outstanding retrospective documentary. We learn that the original plan was for the second film to be Bambi, but Walt wasn’t quite sure the studio could pull it off. Animators were more confident about Pinocchio. Even so, Walt didn’t think the production was working, and shut it down for six months, forcing the creative team to essentially start over. It was during the retooling that they hit upon the idea of expanding the Talking Cricket character, which Pinocchio squashes early on in the book, into the famed Jiminy Cricket, the living embodiment of the puppet boy’s conscience. The creative team also imbued the picture with more heart by softening the title character from the brash troublemaker of the book into a naïve innocent.

The process also is covered in the commentary track, for which the picture-in-picture Cine Explore mode is recommended, as some of the speakers refer to graphics that pop up on the screen. A separate trivia text track adds flavor.

In conjunction, these extras offer many key insights into the history of animation and some of the experimental techniques used on Pinocchio.

One such technique was Walt’s “Sweatbox,” a small studio in which storyboards were projected on a big screen, and Walt could see the sequences that worked and change the ones that didn’t.

Along these lines, viewers can check out three deleted sequences, including an alternate ending in which it is Geppetto, and not Pinocchio, who is killed during the escape from the whale, only to be resurrected by the Blue Fairy when the puppet becomes a real boy. Other tidbits include the live-action reference footage that aided the animators in their work.

Another featurette focuses on modern Geppettos, who discuss what motivates them as toymakers. This program also takes a look at the future of toys, at which point it serves as a nice commercial for an interactive Wall-E robot.

Kids will get a kick out of the games that are included. Both the DVD and Blu-ray versions include a puzzle challenge that unlocks scenes from the movie. Exclusive to the Blu-ray version are a trivia game and a series of fun carnival games. BD Live gives access to another trivia game, one that lets the viewer challenge other fans through the Internet.

The only downsides are the Blu-ray takes too long to load, and the film lacks the pop-up menu option common to most Blu-ray Discs.

Overall, this is a home video presentation that does Disney’s “Platinum” brand proud. As with many icons of literature, the Disney version has become the definitive in pop culture, which from a scholarly perspective is something of a mixed blessing. One can’t help but express a certain degree of lament about all the future generations who will only know these stories through the Disney versions. But that’s probably better than nothing.

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