The story of Pinocchio, the boy who was made out of wood, has enthralled generations of children since it was first written in the 19th century. The character was invented in the 1880s by Italian author and journalist Carlo Collodi and went on to become one of Walt Disney’s most loveable heroes in the 1940 musical film.
Collodi was born in November 1826 and was one of 10 siblings. His father was a cook and his mother was a farmer’s daughter. At the age of 22, he joined the Tuscan Army and fought in the Italian wars of independence between 1848 and 1860, sparking his interest in politics.
As a result, his early literary works were about political matters and he founded Il Lampione, a satirical newspaper, in 1853. He was also a playwright, making his debut with Gli Amici di Casa in 1856.
He continued to write with a political slant until 1875, when he first ventured into writing children’s literature. He was interested in fairy tales and translated Racconti delle Fate – a compilation of French fairy tales by Perrault.
Birth of Pinocchio
He began writing the story of Pinocchio in 1880. Initially, he called his book Storia di un Burattino, which translates to The Story of a Marionette. As the fairy tale progressed, Collodi renamed it Le Avventure di Pinocchio – The Adventures of Pinocchio.
The tale revolved around a boy made out of wood, who had been carved by a woodcarver named Geppetto in a small Italian village near Lucca. Although he was a wooden puppet, Pinocchio came to life and wished he could be a real boy. Geppetto becomes Pinocchio’s father, rather than his creator.
Pinocchio’s nose would grow if he told a lie and in the original book, Collodi described him as an “imp” and a “rascal”, describing his naughty streak. His nose grows when he behaves in a disobedient manner. Sure enough, in the book, his nose grows until it looks deformed.
Sorry that he has behaved in such a way, Pinocchio is upset and weeps over his nose. In the book, the Blue Fairy calls on woodpeckers to peck his giant nose back to its normal size!
Although Pinocchio became an iconic figure in the 20th century in the colourful, cheerful, Disney film, the original character was described as a rogue, who met an unfortunate end. The book served as a cautionary tale for children not to be naughty, or they would meet a nasty fate.
In Pinocchio’s case, he was murdered by his enemies, the Cat and the Fox, who hung him from an oak tree! The story was first published in instalments in the Italian children’s publication, Il Giornale per i Bambini, in 1881. It was published as a book in 1883.
At the time, literary analysts described the book as a folk-tale, claiming Pinocchio represented the Italian “peasants” who ventured into the wider world, but found themselves in unfortunate situations, due to being naïve.
At the time, Italy was becoming increasingly industrialised, with a need for more labourers in the cities. However, the peasants weren’t prepared for the city lifestyle and frequently found themselves in trouble.
Walt Disney film
Author and illustrator Walter S Cramp first translated Pinocchio into English in 1904 and a silent movie of the story was made in 1911. The live-action Italian film was directed by Giulio Antamoro. The silent film star and comedian, Ferdinand Guillaume, played the role of the puppet.
Three decades later, when Disney Studios decided to make an animated version of the story, the horrific ending of the book, when Pinocchio was killed, didn’t fit in with Walt Disney’s ethos of giving all his children’s stories a happy ending.
In the musical of 1940, the character of Pinocchio was much more loveable and less of a rogue. He was a cheeky rascal, rather than wicked. This was on the direct instructions of Walt Disney himself.
Initially, the Walt Disney Company had intended keeping all the characteristics of the puppet intact, as in Collodi’s original book, but Walt Disney said the character wouldn’t even be likeable, so he insisted alterations were made to make him innocent and mischievous.
Plot and characters
In the film, Pinocchio was voiced by Dickie Jones, the American actor and singer, who was best known for his roles in B-movie westerns. The film introduces Jiminy Cricket, voiced by Cliff Edwards. Collodi had depicted him simply as a talking cricket, who was the puppet’s conscience, but he was a more lively, chatty character in the movie.
The elderly woodcarver Geppetto was voiced by Christian Rub, a German-born character actor who featured in more than 100 films between 1910 and the early 1950s.
Geppetto has a pet cat called Figaro, who is jealous of Pinocchio. There is also a sly red fox called Honest John, who isn’t fond of Pinocchio and who tricks him. However, unlike in the original book, the cat and the fox don’t join forces to hang the puppet!
The bad guy, Stromboli, was voiced by Charles Judels, a Dutch-born actor who had roles in 137 films between 1915 and 1949. Stromboli, a sinister puppet-maker, realised Pinocchio had magical powers and forced him to perform a song and dance act, I’ve Got No Strings, to make money.
To Jiminy Cricket’s dismay, Pinocchio has many adventures, including falling in with the wrong crowd and smoking tobacco. As a result, he is kidnapped and taken to Pleasure Island – a supposed haven of freedom for children but in reality, it transforms naughty children into donkeys and sends them off to work!
As with all Disney films, there’s a happy ending. In this case, The Blue Fairy, voiced by actress Evelyn Venable, grants his wish and brings Pinocchio to life as a human boy.
Pinocchio has become one of the most popular films ever to be released by Walt Disney. It was made on a budget of $2.2 million (a massive sum in 1940) but it grossed $84.2 million at the box office.
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