- Year: 1987
- Director: Hal Sutherland
- Starring: Scott Grimes, Tom Bosley, Ed Asner
Oh Filmation Studios, we meet again. Why did you think you could make sequels to classic Disney films and not lose in the end? How does a sequel to Pinocchio even make sense? I mean, he becomes a real boy in the end, right? That’s sort of the entirety of his character arc right there. I’m not saying someone brilliant couldn’t come up with something, but I highly doubt that Filmation studios is that someone.
As with Happily Ever After, Filmation had technically all rights to make this movie, as Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio is in the public domain. As long as certain things unique to the Disney film were avoided, it was legal. That said, Disney did unsuccessfully try to sue.
Pinocchio has been a human child for one year now, so Geppetto is celebrating his first birthday with him.
I suppose this is still set in Italy, although the accents would suggest otherwise. Tom Bosley voices Geppetto because why not, and it would seem that Figaro and Cleo pulled a Chuck Cunningham (again that pesky public domain), as he now owns the bird Alouette (Get it? Because Figaro was a musical thing and so is this.).
Pinocchio is now voiced by Scott Grimes, and he actually sounds a lot like the original Disney character, although at points, he almost feels like a parody of the original. Does anyone ever say “Gee Willikers”? Anyway, on his first birthday, The Blue Fairy (Rickie Lee Jones) appears and tells him that he should never take his humanity for granted. She then breaks into a song out of nowhere that does absolutely nothing to serve the plot. The song is painfully ’80s and completely ruins any timelessness the tale had otherwise. There is also some really weird animation here, like this face Pinocchio makes.
This isn’t just a frame—it lingers on this. Someone meme this please.
Pinocchio agrees to take a jewel box into town for the mayor, and accompanying him is his newly-brought-to-life bug friend Gee Willikers (Get it? Gee Willikers because Jiminy Cricket? It’s dumb.). He’s voiced by Don Knotts, who surprisingly doesn’t just ruin the whole thing by sounding like Don Knotts. I mean, you can tell it’s him, but he’s not going full Barney Fife or anything. He even sounds a bit like Jiminy Cricket at points.
On the way, Pinocchio gets distracted by a pair of animal con men who totally aren’t The Fox and the Cat. Instead, we have Scalawag the Raccoon and Igor (pronounced like in Young Frankenstein) the Monkey. If The Fox and the Cat are in fact in the original novel, why are they changed here? Well, if you want my opinion, their depictions in the Disney film are so iconic that it wouldn’t feel like the sequel they were hoping for if they were changed. Plus, they couldn’t use the Honest John and Gideon names from the Disney film, as those are film-only and not from the book. I hope the lawyers were billed in the credits of this thing.
So, we have the totally-native-to-Italy Raccoon (Ed Asner) and the Hispanic-stereotype Monkey (Frank Welker). Seriously, this guy makes Speedy Gonzalez look racially sensitive.
That said, Ed Asner has a much more interesting character than he did in Happily Ever After, and at least he doesn’t rap. I mean, he’s basically just playing Honest John, but at least he’s somewhat memorable.
The Raccoon and the Monkey (Just doesn’t have the same ring does it?) convince Pinocchio to trade his jewel box for their phony Pharaoh’s ruby. Pinocchio of course falls for it, because he learned his lesson in the first film—If you meet two anthropomorphic animals on the road, they’re only con men if they’re a fox and a cat.
I understand there has to be conflict, but Pinocchio has learned absolutely nothing here. He goes home, Geppetto gets upset, and Pinocchio decides he’ll leave and join the carnival that has just come into town. At the carnival, he falls for a puppet named Twinkle (Lana Beeson), and the evil puppeteer Strombarely uses this to get Pinocchio into his show. Alright, his name is Puppetino (they’re not even trying at this point), but yet again, they can’t use the Stromboli name Disney gave him because it’s not in the original story.
In a scene that apparently traumatized many a child (understandably), Strombarely slowly turns Pinocchio back into a puppet as Pinocchio tries unsuccessfully to escape. As Pinocchio begins to lose more control of his body and tells him to stop, Strombarely says “You’ll stop when I want you to stop.” That’s right, there’s a metaphor for rape in this kids’ movie.
It’s an effective scene, but very soon the Blue Fairy comes in and saves him. He lies and his nose grows, but then he tells the truth and he goes back to normal and is turned human. I get that these deus ex machinas existed in the original, but they feel even cheaper here, because they don’t advance the story or character development.
The carnival moves down river, and Strombarely promises gold to anyone who can bring Pinocchio back to him. Of course, the Raccoon and the Monkey are interested and meet up with Pinocchio. When Pinocchio yells at them about the fake Pharaoh’s Ruby, the Monkey says that maybe it was a fake Pharaoh instead, which I’ll admit actually gave me a laugh. They butter up Pinocchio and get him to go on the boat with them to the carnival.
Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run album represented a significant change in his public image. Gone were the loopy Dylanesque songs of Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J and The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. In their place were Phil Spector Wall of Sound-esque numbers with hopeful lyrics and strong instrumentals. Oh I’m sorry, does it bother you I’m talking about something entirely unrelated to this film? Well, I promise you, it’s as relevant to this review as the Lieutenant Grumblebee subplot is to this film.
Let’s talk about the most pointless subplot in the history of cinema… heck, in the history of storytelling. Gee Willikers meets Lieutenant Grumblebee (Jonathan Harris), a stuffy British airman parody caught up in a war of insects vs. a frog. WHY IS THIS IN HERE?
It serves no purpose to the plot whatsoever. At one point, the battle was ending, and Gee Willikers was on a log going down river, so at least I thought that maybe it existed to get to that end, but then he goes back! It’s entirely pointless and it goes on for a long time.
Were kids just dying to have a Biggles parody in their movie? Was he really hot then or something? I can’t even imagine any American kids would know who that is. At one point, everyone worries that GW has died, and “Taps” is played. That’s right—A British army in Italy playing an American military anthem. WHY?
Apparently GW was supposed to get a spin-off cartoon that never came to fruition, so maybe this was really just a shoehorned pilot for that, but come on. Imagine if in Pinocchio, we suddenly stopped following Pinocchio and instead followed a member of the audience at Stromboli’s puppet show as he walked home, got ready for bed and drank milk. Why would we care? Is this simply filler for an 80-minute movie? Because that’s sad.
Meanwhile, if you’re still watching, stuff actually starts to get a little interesting. It turns out that the carnival’s home is The Empire of the Night. Pinocchio’s boat gets sucked into a boat that houses the empire (gotta get a Monstro shout out in there) and suddenly we’re in this gloomy, dark waterway. The animation in the film has been subpar so far (especially in comparison to the breathtakingly gorgeous Disney film), but this at least has some atmosphere.
Alright, Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night, you’re starting to interest me. Now seal the deal.
Seriously, James Earl Jones. In spite of all the silliness in this movie, James Earl Jones creates a genuinely threatening character. He also voices all of the characters who tempt Pinocchio in the Empire, because they’re all the Emperor in disguise. Pinocchio is taken to The Land Where Dreams Come True, and obviously you can guess where that’s going. He gets his dreams to come true a la Pleasure Island, but his nightmares also come true.
He also has to promise to sign a contract (which gives up his freedom) after he’s had his fun, which makes no sense. Why doesn’t he sign the contract before? What’s the point in promising to sign a contract? That’s basically signing a contract that you’ll sign a contract! Plus, they never once make a “no strings” joke.
The song about The Land Where Dreams Come True is the only one in the film that isn’t painfully dated, and while it isn’t all that good, it’s bearable. Pinocchio then goes on stage with Twinkle as a painfully ’80s song plays, but the happiness can’t last long and we see the Emperor of the Night’s true form.
Well hey, if you’re going to scare kids, just go all out. It’s revealed that he and the Blue Fairy… or the Good Fairy… or the Fairy Godmother… or whatever they call her in this scene (they can’t decide) are caught up in a war, and Pinocchio was the first puppet to ever be given this much power (this was made more than a decade before the George W. Bush presidency). If Pinocchio is turned back into a puppet, The Emperor is almost guaranteed to win. Yes, it’s silly to make Pinocchio a war between gods, but it makes more sense than it did in Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July. I mean, in the original novel, the Blue Fairy is basically a stand-in for the Virgin Mary anyway.
The Emperor has shrunk Geppetto down to miniature size, because I guess he can do that, so Pinocchio agrees to sign the contract. However, he then defeats The Emperor with the power of free will and everyone goes home, including Twinkle who now comes to life. It’s cheap and contrived, but it’s still not entirely awful. The Raccoon and the Monkey even become friends with Pinocchio at the end, which isn’t surprising giving their relatively sympathetic characterizations.
This is not a good movie by any means, but there were points that were at least interesting. Happily Ever After was an absolute disaster, and this is not. James Earl Jones is quite good, and the hellish design of The Empire of the Night is pretty creepy. There’s a lot wasted, but outside of the bee sub-plot, you won’t be bored.
Story (12/30 Points)
I like the Empire of the Night scenes for the most part. They’re a spin on Pleasure Island without being a direct knock-off. I wish we could have seen more of the creepy carnival in the early scenes, as I feel there’s some wasted potential there. When it tries to just rehash Pinocchio, it’s disappointing. When it’s focusing on the bee subplot, it’s pointless.
Returning Characters (8/15 Points)
Pinocchio doesn’t change at all, but the voice sure sounds similar. The Blue Fairy’s voice is kind of grating, and Geppetto is fine, but he doesn’t have much to do.
New Characters (9/15 Points)
The Emperor of the Night is truly imposing, and while the Raccoon and the Monkey are obvious Fox and Cat knock-offs, I still really enjoy Ed Asner’s performance. Gee Willikers is tolerable, Strombarely speaks for himself, and don’t get me started on the bee.
Experience (10/20 Points)
The animation is hit or miss (there’s a chase scene over a repeating backdrop), but it’s never awful minus a few faces. There are a few genuinely creepy moments here as well. The score itself is fine, but the modern-sounding pop songs come out of nowhere and take you out of the film.
Originality (8/20 Points)
Like Happily Ever After, it gets an 8. At first it feels like a total rehash, but then it does pick up a little bit.
FINAL SCORE: 47%
It’s not terrible. I know that’s a pretty low bar to set, but I expected this to be terrible, so I was surprised when I actually was entertained at points. It’s the better of the two Filmation knock-off Disney sequels.