Saturday, February 22, 2014


RELEASE DATE: Friday 7th June 1940

SYNOPSIS: This was the cartoon that introduced Daisy Duck to the world. (There had been a female duck in the early cartoon "Don Donald," but her name was Donna Duck) In this cartoon, Donald is very excited to be going around to visit his new girlfriend. He didn't rely on three attention-seeking nephews however! They want to come along and dance as well!

HAKU: I feel a bit sorry for Donald in this one. All he wants is some quality time with his gal!

IRVYNE: Donald may have all the hottest dance moves, but it's still not enough to get rid of Huey, Dewey and Louie!

SHENZI: Those nephews are a pain in the butt! They just CRAVE attention!

PASCAL: They're starting to channel Uncle Donald's moods. You can see it in their frustrated eyes and the drumming of the fingers. I love how Daisy just takes everything in her stride. I'm not sure if she's just really understanding of their craziness, or perhaps she's just a ditz.

IRVYNE: She seems unconcerned with the nephews. She just wants to dance. And let's be honest, by the end of the cartoon she's very impressed! "What a jitterbug!"
Daisy's design never really changed from her very first appearance here. She's got more feathers than Donald down below, and they're arranged in a kind of skirt. Apart from that, she's just Donald with eyelashes and a bow. It's interesting she was originally meant to have a "wak-wak" voice like Donald. That changed over the years.
One of the standout elements of this cartoon is its music. The style of the tunes and dancing were very contemporary in 1940. It was considered extremely modern.


PASCAL: I enjoyed that one. It made me giggle. I find that I'm enjoying the Donald cartoons better now that I can understand what he's saying a bit better!


 RELEASE DATE: Friday 15th March 1940

SYNOPSIS: Donald, ever looking for a new challenge, decides to take up a job as a riveter at a building construction site. Only problem is, he has no idea how to do the job, is completely unprepared for the work conditions, and has a very grumpy foreman by the name of Pete!

IRVYNE: I love this cartoon. It's so funny! Donald at his best. He and Pete make such great enemies.

SHENZI: I love how Donald just accepts the job with no idea how to actually do it.

IRVYNE: He walks past the sign, says "Oh boy, oh boy, am I a riveter!" That line just makes me giggle every time I watch it. It's also hilarious to hear Donald singing the dwarfs' "Heigh-Ho" song: "It's off to work I go! Wak wak wak wak wak wak wak wak wak!" Love it!

PASCAL: I'm finding that I am getting better at understanding Donald! I love how enthusiastic he is. He always gets himself into trouble, but he somehow manages to get his way out of it. He is very good at walking on air too!

IRVYNE: Ah yes, those good old cartoon gravity physics. Some of Donald's high-rise escapades reminded me a bit of Goofy in "Clock Cleaners." The best part about this cartoon though, is the power struggle between Donald and Pete. There were apparently 12 cartoons pitting Donald and Pete against each other. I love that neither of them has the patience or temper to abide the other. It's a recipe for hilarity!

PASCAL: Grouchy Pete copped it again. He was a tough boss, especially on Donald's first day, but by the end of the cartoon he showed his feminine side... ;-) After surviving Pete and Donald though, I don't think this building would have lasted very long!

SHENZI: This cartoon is classic Donald Duck. Another great short!

Monday, February 10, 2014


RELEASE DATE: Wednesday 7th February 1940

After the phenomenal success of his first animated motion picture Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney immediately set his artists to work on the next masterpiece. Initially, movie #2 was going to be Bambi, but there were elements of that film that simply weren't working (primarily the animation of realistic-looking animals) so the studio's attention went to a strange Italian children's story about a puppet who wanted to be a real boy.

The original story, written as a serial by Italian journalist Carlo Collodi, had a very dark and brutal tone to it, with the underlying theme that unless this very naughty little puppet learned to be good, he would never become a real boy. One of the first stumbling blocks that Disney found was that basically, this main character was not at all likeable. He was rude, naughty, bad tempered and often violent. It was only when they thought to change this character into a cute and completely innocent little boy, that they realised they could make the movie work by having audiences sympathise with the hero.

On its release at the start of 1940, anticipation and expectation were very high. The film got very good reviews, often from critics amazed that Disney could actually better Snow White. But financially, Pinocchio was a failure. It cost twice as much to make as Snow White, but made a fraction of the first movie's box office takings. Walt apparently took this reality check very personally, and became quite depressed over it. There were a number of factors at play, one of the major ones being that World War II had been officially underway for a few months, and because of this, European and Asian markets were not available, and perhaps the general public just didn't feel like seeing a happy musical cartoon in this time of uncertainty. Over the subsequent years, the film has become a known and beloved classic, but on its first release it was not the success that everyone had wished it to be.

Like Snow White before it, Pinocchio begins with a book. But this time we have an active narrator: Jiminy Cricket. He opens the film with the iconic song "When You Wish Upon A Star." (More about that later)

In the original Pinocchio story, there was a character called the "Talking Cricket" who only appeared briefly, telling Pinocchio sternly that he needed to mend his wicked ways and go to school or get a job. Pinocchio's response was to throw a hammer at the cricket, killing it instantly. In THIS version of the story, the cricket is called Jiminy and he is given the task of being Pinocchio's official conscience. It's this little character that really makes the story in this film work. Without him, Pinocchio would just be lost and confused. Jiminy is the voice of reason and wisdom, as well as being a great little comic relief character.

As Jiminy sneaks into Geppetto's workshop, he sees the woodcarver himself, as well as his companions: a kitten called Figaro and a goldfish called Cleo.

All three of these characters are instantly endearing and magnificently animated, but Figaro in particular is an absolute Disney treasure. Not only is the kitten adorable, but he's got the personality of a spoiled, grumpy little child, which is always entertaining to watch.

Geppetto has just finished working on his finest work of art: a little marionette who he names Pinocchio. That night as they all get ready for a good night's sleep, Geppetto realises that the wishing star is out, and he makes a wish that his Pinocchio might come to life and fill his lonely old heart.

Geppetto's wish doesn't fall on deaf ears. No sooner has he gone to sleep, than the beautiful Blue Fairy appears and brings the little wooden boy to life, telling him that the only way he will be a real boy is if he is "brave, truthful and unselfish."

It is worth noting that although the Blue Fairy is only in the movie for a couple of minutes, she is the only real female in the story. (Cleo, of course, is a female, but well... she's also a fish) I do wonder how much thought (if any) went into gender roles in these early films. Would it have made a notable difference if, for example, Stromboli was a woman? I don't know. But this is definitely a boysy movie. The Blue Fairy is animated with a very ethereal, not-quite-there style. All of her outlines are much lighter than everything else around her, and her colours are all pale and almost transparent.

Once Geppetto wakes up and realises Pinocchio is alive, they dance the night away in a sequence somewhat reminiscent of the dwarves' yodelling dance in Snow White. The next morning, Pinocchio is sent to school, where all good boys go. He gets a bit distracted though...

Honest John the fox and Gideon the cat, two tricksters, see Pinocchio as their ticket to a fortune. Honest John does all the talking, and Gideon is a mute. An interesting fact is that Mel Blanc, who did all of the amazing voice work for Warner Bros., recorded a voice for Gideon. When it was decided the character would be mute, his recordings were scrapped, except for a single "hic-up!" that Giddy does in the middle of the film. It was the first and only time Mel Blanc ever worked for Disney.

Pinocchio, ever the innocent optimist, is very easily convinced that instead of going to school he should become an actor. He is sold to a puppeteer showman, Stromboli.

As horrible and evil and nasty as Stromboli is, I do have somewhat of a soft spot for him. You see, in 2011 I played Stromboli in a production of the Disney's stage musical "My Son Pinocchio," which is actually a retelling of the story from Geppetto's perspective. (It was originally made as a telemovie starring Drew Carey) In that version of the story Stromboli's much more of a goofball and more funny than nasty, but it's still a lot of fun to play the baddie!

Poor Pinocchio makes Stromboli a lot of money, and the puppetmaster responds by locking him in a cage. Then, when all seems lost, the Blue Fairy appears and teaches Pinocchio an important lesson about telling the truth.

After being freed by the fairy, Pinocchio races home, determined to do the right thing from now on.
 Things aren't that simple though. He is once again halted in his tracks by Honest John and Gideon. This time they're recruiting boys for a paradise called "Pleasure Island." Once again ignorant of their real intentions, Pinocchio goes with them. Pleasure Island is a carnival lover's dream, and boys there are allowed to do anything they want without getting into trouble.

The evil coachman of Pleasure Island has a sinister plot, however. After the boys have spent the night enjoying their freedom on the island, some evil magic transforms them into donkeys! One of animation's most terrifying scenes sees Pinocchio witness the transformation of his new friend Lampwyck as he becomes a donkey right before his eyes.

Jiminy and Pinocchio manage to escape the island in time, with the puppet sporting a tail and a pair of donkey ears. By the time they finally reach home however, they find Geppetto's house abandoned. The Blue Fairy sends a note to let them know that the woodcarver and his pets have been swallowed by a whale named Monstro. Pinocchio, finally showing a bit of initiative, sets out to save his father.

The journey takes the pair of adventurers under the sea. (It's better down where it's wetter, take it from me...) They finally discover the location of the enormous whale and set about their rescue mission by starting a fire in his belly and making him sneeze. Monstro does not like that though. Not one bit!

In a thrilling escape, Pinocchio and Geppetto escape the wrath of Monstro, but it costs Pinocchio his life. (Apparently he can drown, regardless of the hours he spent walking along the bottom of the ocean... Heh...)

Heartbroken, Geppetto brings his brave little son home to his workshop, but the power of Pinocchio's bravery transforms him into a real boy and brings him back to life. Cue smiles, dancing and all around joy at a happy ending! The end.

IRVYNE: In terms of characters, Disney had made quite an advancement from Snow White. In fact, that's pretty much true of every category. The title character is just adorably clueless, exuding an ignorant innocence that just makes you want to protect him from the world. I don't think it says much of Geppetto's parenting skills that a matter of hours after his son being "born" he's sending the boy off to school on his own, to fend for himself in the big wide world.

Jiminy Cricket is also a fantastic character, and so beloved by audiences that he has made countless cameos in Disney productions ever since.

The one area where Snow White beats Pinocchio hands-down is the villain. Pinocchio actually has five separate villains, but none of them reach the heights of the wicked queen. Honest John and Gideon are entertaining "silly" villains. Stromboli and the Coachman are both horribly evil and nasty (and ironically voiced by the same actor, Charles Judels) but neither character features in more than a couple of scenes each. The fifth villain, Monstro, is a powerful force of nature more than a "baddie." At any rate, NONE of these five villains have their stories resolved by the end of the film. None of them receive their "comeuppance." (You could possibly argue that Monstro gets a massive headache after slamming into the cliff, but we never see him after that shot, so who knows?)

Meanwhile, here's a case of me reading way too much into things... I know that there's no official logic to Disney's use of anthropomorphic animals alongside regular ones (eg. a mouse with a pet dog) but in this film we have Figaro - a real cat - and Gideon, a humanised cat. How does that even work??

But all up, the characters in Pinocchio are fantastic, especially Figaro. The story is paced fairly strangely. It does move along at a steadier pace than Snow White (although the bottom-of-the-ocean sequence outstays its welcome a little bit) but the whole tale is very chapterised. I suppose this is to be expected in a movie based on a serialised story, but you can literally break the whole film down into smaller "chapters." This happens. Then this happens. Then this happens. It's not a BAD thing necessarily, but it sometimes lacks a bit of momentum.

The artists learned SO much in the making of Snow White. This resulted in an even more magnificent looking movie, and what some argue is the most beautiful animated film ever made. The stunningly beautiful painted backgrounds, the superb character animation, the clever use of the multiplane camera and the huge advances in effects animation... They all combine to make a feast for the eyes in every frame.

The overall design of the Italian village and Geppetto's house in particular was largely due to artist Albert Hurter, a man who also did a lot of the design in Snow White. All of the detailed wood carvings, the clever music boxes, the colour tones... They were all thanks to Hurter.

One of the things this film is most renowned for, and something that still makes modern animators' jaws drop, is the effects animation, in particular the water effects during the Monstro sequence. They are beyond incredible in their artistry and their movement. From 1940 to the current day, animators have been analysing these scenes frame-by-frame to figure out how these effects were all animated by hand. It is one of the Disney collection's crowning achievements.

The only two things I don't like about the visuals in this film is the one shot where Pinocchio jumps out of the wagon (where the wagon itself was filmed live in stop-motion - unfortunately it doesn't fit the design of the rest of the movie) and the children in the Coachman's carriage just look ridiculous. Apart from that, this is one stunning-looking film.

The soundtrack for Pinocchio is largely charming, including "Little Wooden Head," "Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee, An Actor's Life For Me" and "I've Got No Strings." While I would maybe suggest that these songs aren't amongst the best of the Disney bunch, there is one song that makes this soundtrack stand above many others. That song is, of course, "When You Wish Upon A Star."

As for its purpose in the actual movie, it's the opening credits sequence. It's merely an intro to the story. But wow, what a song! It's a classic in every sense of the word, so much so, it became the anthem for the Walt Disney company itself.

It's worth noting that Pinocchio won Academy Awards for both "Best Score" and "Best Original Song." This was the last time this would happen to Disney until Mary Poppins in 1964.

Pinocchio is still a very entertaining movie to watch, 74 years after it first hit cinemas. Its story can lack a bit of direction at times, and some characters aren't given a complete story arc, but this film can be appreciated by an adult for its sheer artistry. It betters Snow White in almost every way, while bearing no real resemblance to it at all. Walt could have just made a carbon-copy fairy tale, but he wanted to challenge everybody to make something really different, and he succeeded.

Pinocchio is a bona fide Disney classic.

MALEFICENT: As a former art teacher, I can really appreciate the artistry in Pinocchio. It looks amazing, especially the water effects. If you compare it to Snow White, the level of quality is so high. I loved all the music boxes and the clocks. The other thing I really enjoyed this time was the underscore. It's really good!

MERRYWEATHER: There weren't that many songs. I think as the years have gone on, they've added more and more songs into the movies.

NALA: In these older movies they've got one main song, but in the newer ones they're like real musicals.

IRVYNE: There were actually a few songs in Pinocchio, but you don't really notice them much.

PASCAL: I found it interesting that the painted backgrounds are so static. When you see into Geppetto's workshop there's more movement in the background, but it just seemed to me like the scenes were more still than in Snow White.

IRVYNE: Did you see the books in the background in the first scene? A premonition of things to come!

ANNA: I hadn't seen Pinocchio since I was a kid, so I picked up on so many little bits and pieces that had gone straight over my head. I was also amazed at what they could do without any help from computer animation. That must have taken them ages!

NALA: I hadn't watched this in years either. I'd never really laughed at it before, but there's bits that I find funny now.

WENDY: Did you notice the Blue Fairy was really the only really human-looking character in the whole movie? Everybody else looked cartoony. The top of her head looked a little bit Snow-Whitey actually. Also, I want to know, is Giddy a boy or a girl?

ANNA: It's a girl I think.

WENDY: If it is, she's one of the only girls in this entire story.

IRVYNE: I always used to think Giddy was a girl, but no. It's actually a boy. You can see he wears pants and a little top hat which give it away a bit, but yeah. Apparently it's a male cat. Maybe Monstro's a girl... an EVIL girl!

MERRYWEATHER: Monstro's not evil! It's just a whale swimming in the ocean!

IRVYNE: Didn't you see how scared all the fish were? He's evil!

WENDY: No! He's just trying to survive by getting something to eat, when someone made him sneeze. I was expecting Ariel to turn up while they were walking under the sea.

MERRYWEATHER: I was expecting her to turn up when Geppetto was washed up on the shore!

MUSHU: Well I don't know what the animators were thinking when they made Jiminy Cricket, but crickets don't look like that!

IRVYNE: No. Apparently in the design phase he started out looking like a real cricket, but he just became less and less cricket-like until they settled on that design. He was created and animated by Ward Kimball. Walt gave him that job as an apology for cutting his soup-eating scene out of Snow White. There's a quote where Kimball said, "the only thing that makes Jiminy Cricket a cricket is because we call him one!"

MUSHU: He's a pretty bad conscience. Pinocchio keeps getting into trouble and Jiminy keeps failing to keep him safe.

WENDY: He's too busy hitting on inanimate objects. He needs a girlfriend!

IRVYNE: Well anyway, we all loved Pinocchio. Thanks again Mr. Disney!