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Disney's 'Pinocchio' Still a Glorious Treat

April 02, 1993|CHARLES SOLOMON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" is warmer, "Beauty and the Beast" received an Oscar nomination for best picture and "Aladdin" has grossed more money on its initial release, but "Pinocchio" still ranks as the most perfectly executed of the Disney animated features--which means it's probably the best feature in the history of animation. Made by young artists at the height of their creative powers, "Pinocchio" shimmers with energy and excitement.

The laser disc, struck from the restored version of the film, showcases the glorious colors and intricate designs that were lost in dark or faded theatrical prints. The lavishly packaged deluxe edition ($100: three discs, a booklet, a commemorative lithograph and a CD of the soundtrack) includes a supplementary disc, "The Making of a Masterpiece" (17 chapters), that tells the viewer considerably less than it should about the creation of one of the milestones in American film.

Robby Benson, the voice of Beast, serves as the warmly genial host of Side One. Although there are a few errors in the script ("Snow White" was not "the first full-length animated feature"), the real problem lies in the superficiality of the presentation.

The narration notes that the undersea sequences posed special challenges, and explains that the camera operators used ripple glass to suggest waves. But no mention is made of the difficulties the animators faced trying to make their characters move in an underwater environment: Capturing the effects of gravity is a key principle of Disney animation. Nor does the viewer learn about the problems of making Pinocchio and Jiminy sound as if they were underwater. Dick Jones, the voice of Pinocchio, nearly drowned when he tried to read his lines lying on his back while a director poured water into his mouth.

Many of the artists who worked on "Pinocchio" are still alive, but the disc only includes interviews with Ward Kimball, whose animation of Jiminy Cricket remains a high point in the Disney canon, and Jones (very briefly).

Side Two features step-through sequences of preliminary artwork, including early character designs, production stills of the artists, inspirational paintings and conceptual art for two sequences not included in the finished film: the magic tree that supplied the wood for Pinocchio's body and the boys on Pleasure Island burning books. It's a rare treat to see this material, but there's no adequate explanation of how the drawings were used--or who did them. Jim Fanning's handsome booklet provides some additional information, but not enough. It's unfortunate that Disney didn't utilize this opportunity to show how the studio functioned in its heyday.

Although "The Making of a Masterpiece" extols Disney's genius, it omits the intriguing fact that Walt Disney made not only "Pinocchio," but "Snow White," "Fantasia," all of the "Silly Symphonies" and most of the good Mickey Mouse shorts before his 40th birthday--a challenge to any contemporary industry figure who poses as a wunderkind.

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