Pinocchio (70th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray]

When the American Film Institute named its ten best animated films of all time, the 1940 Disney classic, Pinocchio ended up number two. It’s considered a masterpiece. While I don’t like it as much as many people, it’s a beautiful film and the fine folks at Disney have given it a fantastic Blu-ray release. Pinocchio, like many Disney animated classics of yesteryear, has been released and re-released in theaters and on various home entertainment formats over the years. It’s hard to believe that anyone who is remotely interested in Disney or animation hasn’t already seen it and formed their own opinion.

I find Pinocchio to be a slightly episodic but in many ways ambitious story delivered by some of the best animation churned out by the Disney artists during their first golden age. Even the, at times, less than appealing main character does not distract from the almost insane attention to detail and high quality of the animation. For those who want to see hand drawn animation at its early apex, this is a movie to be savored.

The story is not quite so compelling. Pinocchio is created by the lonely toymaker, Geppetto, and brought to life by the Blue Fairy. Desiring to become a real boy, he must prove himself to be truthful, brave, and unselfish. Although given a conscience in the form of Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio is anything but successful in his quest to embody the qualities needed. He ignores his conscience and constantly gets into trouble (some quite dark and ominous for a movie geared to families) but eventually proves himself worthy of becoming a boy.

Although it is definitely a product of its time, the movie does hold up pretty well for the modern viewer. Again, the animation is superb and for those kids raised on Pixar’s computer based detail, this film will have a much softer and warmer look. It seems to make the scenes of true emotion come out that much better and also makes the scenes of menace that much scarier.

Beyond the animation is the music that features classic Disney standards like “When You Wish Upon a Star,” “I’ve Got No Strings,” and “Give a Little Whistle.” While the tunes, especially “When You Wish Upon a Star,” are so iconic that it’s hard to appreciate them in the context of the movie, they are more fun to listen to than some of the songs in other Disney films of the era.

What is there to say, really? Pinocchio is an acknowledged classic of animation and it looks great on Blu-ray. If you’ve never seen it it’s certainly worth picking up and if you have seen it you already know if you like it enough to splurge for this high-def copy. Disney does Pinocchio right in this 70th Anniversary edition. Getting it on Blu-ray is worth the upgrade even if you have an older DVD release. That’s not because of the extras; they are good, but not spectacular. It’s really the opportunity to get this in HD that is key. The video (shown in the original 1.33 aspect ratio) is fantastic and while my audio set up doesn’t let me hear the benefit of 7.1 DTS HD-Master Audio, yours probably does.

The other features in this new edition include a commentary by Disney animator Eric Goldberg and Disney hangers-on Leonard Maltin and J.B. Kaufman. It’s a knowledgeable commentary full of facts and trivia and can be heard or seen using the picture-in-picture function. The main commentary is supplemented by comments made by (now-dead) animators about various facets of the production.

If you don’t want to listen to the commentary, but would still like to get a few extra nuggets of wisdom jammed into your head, then you can turn on “Pinocchio’s Matter of Facts.” These are pop ups that are geared more towards adults than kids. If you’re in a singing along mood, then you can play the movie with the lyrics on screen or even jump right to the songs.

Probably the oddest extra is what is being called “Disney View.” Since the movie is shown in the original 1.33 aspect ratio, if you have a widescreen TV, there will be black bars on the sides of the film, rather than the top and bottom. So you are given the option of turning on “Disney View” which puts “imagery” in the place of the black bars on each side. The imagery typically looks like wood paneling with designs that (sometimes) fit in with the animation on screen. It’s a complete waste, but I guess if you just cannot stand the black bars on the edge of the screen, this will make you feel better.

The main behind-the-scenes extra is a 56-minute documentary called “No Strings Attached: The Making of Pinocchio.” It features many of the same people involved in the commentary, like Maltin and Goldberg, along with interviews with current Disney animators and archive interviews and films with the animators who worked on the movie. It’s a great all encompassing introduction to the movie.

Not so great is a six-minute item called “The Sweat Box.” It features people talking about the screening room where Walt Disney met with animators to screen work and discuss the work. That’s not so bad, it’s kinda interesting, but there is a horrible recreation of the event using actors with Walt’s face forever in shadow. Slightly more interesting, only because it’s hard to believe they do stuff like this is the “Live Action Reference Footage” which shows how they build sets and props and have actors move around in them as reference points for the animators.

While “deleted scenes” in an animated film are often very rough, the three scenes provided for Pinocchio almost fail to qualify. Lasting about 10 minutes and including an “alternate ending” they are heavily narrated to fill in huge gaps and presented primarily as storyboards. The “alternate ending” isn’t even a storyboard, it’s rough sketches that don’t really change the ending. I guess if you’re wondering about story ideas that didn’t make it back in the late 1930’s when this was being made, you might be interested.

There are three games, including a trivia challenge that isn't particularly easy. The trivia game can be played against other people if your Blu-ray player is hooked up to the Internet. There is a puzzle game and once you figure out the puzzle, it comes to life.

While it has nothing to do with the movie, there is a short look at toy making called “Geppettos Then and Now.” It’s pretty interesting, although it’s also sort of an advertisement for some Disney products. There is also some art galleries if you’re into that kind of thing. Last (and least) is a new, heavily processed, version of “When You Wish Upon a Star” by one of the latest interchangeable Disney pop princesses. It’s awful.

This is a very worthwhile addition to any Disney fan’s collection. In addition to the two Blu-ray discs, you also get a DVD that has the movie for playing on portable DVD players or for those who are planning on upgrading to a Blu-ray but haven’t yet. I’m sure those with DVD collections of all the classics are now groaning at the thought of moving on to the HD versions, but this is an animation powerhouse and benefits greatly from the extra crisp and clear picture.