Pinocchio (1940)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

Step by step, DVD is taking one hurdle after the other. As early adopters we have been waiting and seeing Buena Vista, Paramount and 20th Century Fox come around to release DVD titles after a long time of trepidation. We have seen Dreamworks enter the market and even releasing films by Steven Spielberg, and although there are still a number hurdles to be taken by the format, DVD has just made one major step ahead with the release of Disney’s "Pinocchio".
For the longest time, Disney was unwilling to commit their animated feature films to the DVD format, and finally here is their first classic animation release, the beloved tale of "Pinocchio."

This 1940 classic tells the story of Pinocchio, a wooden marionette who comes to life and wishes so badly to become a real boy. It all starts one night when woodcarver Gepetto is finishing is latest puppet, the marionette of a little boy. Lonely, despite the company of his cat and his goldfish, the old Gepetto dreams of having a real boy for company. Then, the same night he observes a falling star and wishes upon it for Pinocchio to come to life. While the old man falls back to sleep his wish is indeed coming true. A fairy appears and breathes the spark of life into the wooden puppet. She tells him to be a good boy and if he remains honest and upright, one day he will become a real boy. She also makes Jiminy Cricket, a small but wise fellow, his conscience, for Pinocchio to draw upon when he is in doubt. When Gepetto awakes and finds Pinocchio alive, he is ecstatic. He sends him off to school the next day to make sure the boy gets a proper education, but before Pinocchio even reaches school he is tempted by two con-artists, who lure the boy into becoming a theater actor despite Jiminy’s advice and eventually cheat him. The fairy reappears and rescues Pinocchio one more time, but admonishes him to stay on the right path from now on.

In the meanwhile, Gepetto is desperate over the loss of his boy who vanished on that morning without a sign, and starts searching all over for Pinocchio. But before Pinocchio can return home from his first adventure, the two spivs cross his path another time, and this time they sell the little boy off to a wretched and evil businessman who turns children into more sell-able donkeys by the dozen. Jiminy can save Pinocchio within a hair’s breadth, but when they return home to Gepetto’s workshop, the house is empty and Gepetto missing, still searching the world for his lost little boy. When Pinocchio learns that his father is trapped inside Monstro the Whale, he immediately sets out to rescue him and begins yet another fantastic adventure.

"Pinocchio" was Disney’s second animated feature and it carries all the trademarks that made Disney the phenomenon they are. It is a charming tale with a moralistic and educational approach, well wrapped up in a singing and dancing whimsical fantasy world that pleases adults as much as it captivates children. The lessons about honesty, obedience to your parents, loyalty and bravery are key examples why practically all Disney animated features have become instant classics, and why their timeless glory never ceases to shine. Combined with the subtle human inaccuracies that can be found throughout these films, due to the nature that they were all entirely hand-drawn, films like "Pinocchio" are simply gems of the visual animation arts and milestones of movie history.

The first thing I noticed when opening the packaging for "Pinocchio"was the fact that this is a <$RSDL,dual layer> disc, which is slightly surprising given the rather film’s short running length of only 88 minutes. However, remembering that for the longest time, Disney seemed to have issues regarding DVD’s video capabilities, it only made sense that they would use an extremely high bitrate for the best possible image quality on their animated feature releases. The <$RSDL,dual layer> gives them plenty of additional storage that allows for high quality video and audio, and I believe the increase in price for those animated releases can in part be attributed to the additional manufacturing costs over single-layer discs that may have been anticipated at first. As expected then, the image quality of "Pinocchio" is outstanding. There are some defects visible in the film transfer, and some artifacts that are a result of a previous restoration of the film a few years ago – after all, "Pinocchio" is nearly 60 years old!

The compression itself is flawless and reproduces the picture with a never-before-seen clarity and brilliance. Every little detail is visible on this DVD, every one of the precious animation cels has been flawlessly transferred for this release, and the result is a stunning visual feast for animation lovers. Never has "Pinocchio" looked like this before, probably not even during its original theatrical run 59 years ago, given the technical limitations of that time. The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 <$PS,fullframe> aspect ratio on this <$THX,THX> certified disc, and the color delineation is simply superb. From the deepest black to the bright highlights, the colors run the entire gamut without over-saturation, creating a bold and colorful image. Edges are sharp and don’t show any signs of over-emphasizing.

"Pinocchio" contains the film’s original monaural soundtrack, presented in a surround channel mix in English and French. The soundtrack is not a typical surround mix however, and simply uses the original mono track to spread it across channels. The track sounds very good throughout and I was very pleasantly surprised how low the noise floor on this release turned out to be. Without hissing, noise or distortion, there is certainly little that would give away the soundtrack’s considerable age. Although the frequency response is somewhat limited in this film, the mix sounds balanced and natural throughout. Never muffled or distorted, but always crisp and clear, again due to an increase in the bitrate for the audio.

"Pinocchio" also contains the movie’s original theatrical trailer, but the full-color character artwork that is advertised on the packaging is sadly nowhere to be found on the disc. If there is one thing Buena Vista has to be scolded for lately, it has to be their rather lax attitude towards labeling their releases with features that are not part of the disc. [Editor: I have been informed by now however, that the phrase "Full-Color Character Artwork On Disc" has to be taken quite literal and that Disney is referring to the full-color print that graces the physical disc with this phrase. Although these discs are commonly known as picture discs I am not sure why Disney decided to coin a new phrase for it, but I suspect it just makes a nice sell-sheet bullet point this way.]

As expected "Pinocchio" turns out to be a shining star. Although the complete lack of extras is a bit of a sore spot in that release, this presentation of "Pinocchio" is the best ever. No doubt, this is a disc I will cherish for years to come.