Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Jiminy Cricket sucks on every conceivable level.

As promised, I've been seeing Disney movies I missed, which is most of them. Tim thinks Pinnochio is Disney's best-ever. I, um...tend to disagree.

Here's what's good about Pinnochio: the backgrounds are really beautiful, especially the interior of Geppeto's cottage. Figaro the cat is endearing. The "I've Got no Strings" segment is good.* And the Pleasure Island sequence is something else. I mean holy shit--I haven't seen every Disney movie, but I cannot imagine that they ever produced a more primally terrifying sequence than the one where the transformed children are sobbing for their mothers and receiving no quarter from the demonic slaver. I don't see how that wouldn't traumatize the shit out of any five-year-old (it's also perhaps an interesting point that none of the villains in this movie suffer any negative repercussions whatsoever for their evil deeds). In fact, it's my theory that the Disney people decided that this was kind of a bridge too far, which is why Bambi's mother's death immediately segues into a gloriously happy springtime scene and is never, ever alluded to again or acknowledged in any way (Not that I didn't like Bambi a lot, but DAMN that part felt self-conscious).

That said, however--and admittedly, "that" is a fair amount--the movie just doesn't hold together at all. In fact, it undermines itself in such a constant, systematic way that you start wondering whether this was actually, for some perverse reason, intentional.

Pinnochio has to learn to avoid temptation to do bad things. And in this, Jiminy Cricket is supposed to be his "conscience." And Jiminy Cricket is consistently, infuriatingly ineffectual. He runs around after Pinnochio (except in the many sections where he just gives up and is only saved by random flukes), always a day late and dollar short, and at no point in the movie does he provide any sort of effective moral guidance. He tells P not to go with the foxes--P goes anyway. He tells P not to lie to the fairy--P lies anyway. He tells P to leave Pleasure Island--P refuses. And just look at how utterly worthless he is in the whale section: he tries to pry its teeth open and fails. That is ALL he does. The only time he's at all materially helpful is when he finally does lead the way off of Pleasure Island, but that's not a moral issue--it's just a "holy shit I'm going to turn into a donkey" issue.

So how DOES Pinnochio gain this willpower and good character that he's after? Answer: he doesn't. Seriously. When he's trapped in Stromboli's cage (a flimsy-looking wooden cage that any COMPETENT helper could have gotten him out of, but not the ever-worthless Jiminy), he's bailed out by the fairy. I like the way she fucks with him when he's telling obvious, idiotic lies, but in spite of the pious homily she provides, there's no evidence that he actually learns anything about lying. Then, as previously alluded to, he resolutely fails to learn anything from Pleasure Island. He leaves for purposes of self-preservation, and nothing more.

The only time he exhibits anything that could be called positive characteristics is in the final section with the whale, and boy oh BOY, but that section is such a bizarre non-sequitur that it's hard to take seriously. Oh no! Geppeto's gone, and he's taken the cat and fish with him! Oh, here's a note delivered by a dove (The Holy Spirit? Probably futile to try to make sense of this)! Egads! For unspecified reasons, Geppeto and friends are trapped inside a whale! Whuh? The solution: weight ourselves down with rocks and fling ourselves off a random jetty! I can detect no possible flaw in this plan.

Look, you can shout "CARTOON LOGIC!" until you're blue in the face, but you'll notice that that phrase contains the word "logic." The world of Pinnochio is not meant to be a surrealist fever dream. And yet, there is NO WAY that this section can possibly be justified in any narrative sense (also, watching the two of them walking on the ocean floor in slow motion for ten minutes is unbearably tedious--but given the bigger problems, I suppose one needn't dwell on that).

There are three things Pinnochio is meant to learn: truthfulness, bravery, and selflessness. You can argue that he gets the second and third of these from the bizarre third segment, but this leaves the previous sections entirely bereft of any purpose for being. And he NEVER is shown to have learned anything about honesty ("you can infer it," a partisan might argue. "Infer it from WHAT?" I would counter). The fact that that goddamn useless insect receives a "conscience badge" at the end is just too risible for words. Apparently, there was a Jiminy Cricket comic book in the fifties. I can only assume that each story depicted our "hero" setting himself a task, failing pitifully at said task, and then getting rewarded for being a pitiful failure. Very edifying, I've no doubt.

*although I CANNOT understand why they screw up the pattern: the basic idea is that Pinnochio is assailed on all sides by puppet versions of loose women of various ethnicities: first, a German woman, followed by four more German women. Then, a French women followed by four more French women. Then, a Russian woman followed by four…bearded revolutionary-types? What?

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

Perhaps, at the time the movie was made, the audience was much more familiar with the original source material than I'd imagine people are now. So, the film-makers could basically do whatever the hell they wanted, and abandon logic and continuity to the winds, because they could count on the audience being able to 'plug in' all the relevant parts of the book to fill the narrative gaps. I don't see Carlo Collodi's book on store shelves much nowadays, though, so your observations really make me wonder how contemporary kids would react to this movie.

SK

12:21 PM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. pontificated to the effect that...

That had actually briefly occurred to me as a possibility, but I still feel like the movie needs to stand on its own to really work.

1:13 PM  
Blogger Unknown pontificated to the effect that...

I haven't seen the movie or had the book read to me since I was a child. I liked both then, but I also enjoyed Yellow Submarine (without the aid of psychedelics) and Peter Cera's 'Glory of Love'. I had terrible taste as a child.

1:46 AM  
Blogger One Woman's Thoughts pontificated to the effect that...

Although as an adult I realize that there is truth in your analysis of Jiminy Cricket, I will defend him to the end. I always thought he was quite dapper and gentlemenly. I've had a cartoon crush on him since I was a child and first set eyes on him. There is no accounting for love. It just is. Thanks for the laughs.

10:00 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon pontificated to the effect that...

I will defend him too by pointing that Jiminy Cricket is not a GUARDIAN ANGEL but a CONSCIENCE. In other words, he doesn't make Pinocchio escape from the cage, and doesn't stop him for listening to Gideon after having warned him, BECAUSE IT'S NOT HIS JOB. His job's to tell Pinocchio what's good and what's bad. He is technically not concerned by whether or not Pinocchio listens to him.

Of course, he seems concerned at least a little bit by what Pinocchio does, but that's purely personal from him; the Blue Fairy doesn't judge him on that.

5:08 AM  
Blogger Unknown pontificated to the effect that...

I love how Pinocchio's "conscience" scolds him for playing pool, but never once says anything about the boys left behind at Pleasure Island.

I'm not blaming Pinocchio for saving himself, we'd all do that; but if Jimmeny was in any way trying to act like a real person's conscience, he'd be hollering in Pinocchio's ears on repeat, "YOU LET YOUR FRIENDS DIE!"

I'd be nice if his "conscience" at least reminded him, when he was showing off his donkey ears and tail to his dad, "Hey Pinnoc, why don't you mention all those boys being turned into donkeys and sold into slavery! Maybe the law can do something about it."

Nope.

I wonder, was Jimmeny Cricket the conscience for all the Disney villains growing up? It would explain a lot.

2:09 AM  

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