Pristine Pinocchio A Puppet Master on Blu-ray

By Jim Bray
March 13, 2009

Walt Disney Studios has released another excellent example of the Blu-ray disc format that's a perfect illustration of all that's great about the high definition disc.

It's Pinocchio, and Disney's 1940 classic has never looked or sounded as good as it does in this terrific Platinum Edition multi-disc package.

Disney's second full-length animated movie (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first, and it's scheduled for the Platinum Blu-ray treatment in fall 2009), Pinocchio won two Academy Awards.  

The new Blu-ray Combo Pack includes a DVD for people who may not have a BD player yet but who plan to get one, or who want to play the movie in their cars, other rooms, or at friends'. And if you're still unsure of how much better Blu-ray is than DVD, this Combo Pack should convince you, since it lets you play the two versions side by side – and I can tell you surely that there's no comparison between them. The DVD looks great, but the Blu-ray – wow!

Pinocchio is the story of a little wooden marionette though, being a boy, you might think he'd just be referred to as a "marion". Maybe that's why he's known more commonly as a little wooden "boy"…

Anyway, as nearly everyone knows by now, Pinocchio and his "father" Geppetto wish (upon a star) for the puppet to become a real boy and a Blue Fairy shows up to grant them the wish – or at least part of it. The Fairy brings Pinocchio to life, allowing him to live and breathe (including under water, apparently), but he's still made of wood. Kind of like a cute Al Gore...

The catch is that Pinocchio must prove he's worthy of being completely human before that part of the wish can be granted. He needs a conscience to help him learn right from wrong, good from evil, and the Fairy appoints what had heretofore been the film's narrator, Jiminy Cricket, to the job. Together they're tasked with helping Pinocchio learn to be brave, honest, and loyal – tough tasks even today!

Alas, it's a big and dangerous world out there and a cricket can have a hard time keeping up with a little wooden boy who can walk and run and dance, and that big and dangerous world is also full of wonders to a wide-eyed puppet making his first forays into it.

Thus, on his first outing, as he heads to school, Pinocchio comes upon con-critters Honest John and his sidecat, Gideon. They sell Pinocchio to a carnival puppeteer who locks Pinocchio away as his slave. And thus begins Pinocchio's life lessons and opportunities for personal growth.

I'm not going to retell the story. Suffice it to say that this delightful adventure is as marvelous today as it must have been when it debuted.

The Blu-ray is marvelous, too, though Disney couldn't resist spoiling it with a stupid, politically correct anti-smoking commercial at the beginning, during the parade of trailers and previews (which, fortunately, you can skip). It's dumb; if they'd bothered watching the movie, they'd see that most of the smoking (and drinking and pool playing, though strangely enough there's no anti-booze or anti-pool message) is done by the bad people in such a way that the movie itself is an anti-smoking message!

The movie itself features a new, digital restoration and tweaking and it's gorgeous. The 1080p picture is bright and clean and colorful, with beautiful crispness. It looks magnificent.

Since Pinocchio comes from the days before widescreen, the film shows with black bars on the sides of today's widescreen TV's. This is the nature of the beast – just as it is with other old movies and all but the most recent TV shows – so get used to it.

The drawback is that, if you're watching on an old-style CRT television or a plasma, the set could suffer "burn in" over time, with the black bars becoming permanent features (the last thing you want!). This is why TV's offer stretch and zoom settings, which are only partially successful, esthetically.

Yet even here, Disney has come through with a marvelous solution.  You're offered the choice of watching it with the black bars (the best way, and one that won't affect LCD TV's) – or with the nifty "Disney View", which adds painted sections to the sides of the picture where the black bars would be.

I thought it would suck, but I tried it with a 58 inch plasma and loved it! The paintings match the look and feel of the film and even give it a kind of "proscenium arch-compatible" look (at the sides, anyway) as if the movie is unfolding on a stage.

Audio has been remastered into a "fudged" 7.1 channel version, presented in dts HD Master Lossless Audio. There's even some decent surround in evidence, and you get a nice soundstage across the front of the home theater. The sound quality is much better than I had anticipated hearing from a movie this old.

As you'd expect from the studio's history, Disney also piles on the extras. I could usually care less about extras as long as the disc does the movie justice, but sometimes there's some really interesting stuff, especially when it revolves around the production itself.

There's some of that here, including an "all-new" Making Of Pinocchio feature (called "No Strings Attached", in HD), an alternate ending and some deleted scenes. There's also an audio commentary with legendary movie lover/pundit Leonard Maltin accompanied by Eric Goldberg and J. B. Kaufman.

The Blu-ray also includes a new music video of "When You Wish Upon a Star" with Meaghan Jette Martin, Pinocchio’s Matter of Facts – supposedly fun facts about Pinocchio and other related subjects you can play as the movie unfolds (for those with really short attention spans?), "Disney Song Selection" (sing along as the lyrics appear onscreen), and The Story of the Grandfather Tree (in which Geppetto tells Pinocchio about the Great Pine Tree from which he's descended, causing Pinocchio to pine for his family tree).

If you don't live in Canada you can partake of the BD exclusive Disney BD-Live Network – with which you can hang out in cyberspace with like-minded Disneyphiles. Movie Chat lets you interact with your cyberbuddies on-screen in a synchronized

viewing party that appears over the movie in real-time, though it's tough to share popcorn that way.  I find things like this get in the way of the movie, but to each his own.

"Movie Mail" lets Blu-ray owners record a personalized video message of themselves, superimpose it onto one a pre-selected clips of the movie, and inflict it upon someone else. It's Facebook Home Video!

Disney also includes some games, trivia stuff and the like. The games take forever to load and are kiddie-oriented, but they'll keep the ankle biters occupied while mom and dad are out partying.

This stuff is all gravy, though. I'm satisfied with the wonderful presentation Disney has given to the movie itself. It's a fine job, indeed, one more reason to head for the Blu-ray section of your electronics and video stores.

Copyright 2009 Jim Bray

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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