Posted on October 27th 2019
We recently rewatched Disney's Pinocchio, and we had some thoughts about it that we wanted to share. Just to be clear, we're talking specifically about Disney's version of the story, which is vastly different from the original novel.
While in the original story, Pinocchio comes out of the block of wood already as an absolute asshole, Disney's Pinocchio is not so much bad as gullible and easily misled. Considering that Disney's Pinocchio was only just magically brought to life, it makes sense that he doesn't know anything about the world. So all his troubles come just because of how inexperienced he is.
The entire plot wouldn't have started if Geppetto had just accompanied Pinocchio to school the first day. Why didn't he? Geppetto is suddenly blessed with the son he always wanted, but he can't even personally show him the way to school and make sure he gets there safely? It's not like he had anything else to do. Besides, doesn't he need to explain a couple things to the teacher? He just sent Pinocchio off with a book and an apple. The book is probably some schoolbook he's been having for the last 60 years. Then okay, Geppetto is presented as a weird old man, so we can see why he doesn't understand what needs to be done to take care of a kid, let alone a newborn puppet... But at least making sure the teacher doesn't freak out when a living puppet introduces himself as the son of that weird single old man?
When the Blue Fairy brings Pinocchio to life, she tells him that in order to become a real boy, he needs to be "brave, truthful, and unselfish." Jiminy Cricket explains that to do so, Pinocchio will need to withstand temptation. The movie's plot implies that Pinocchio keeps falling prey to temptation, but is he even really being tempted as much as simply not understanding what is happening at all? Temptation implies that you know something is bad, but you want it so much that you choose to do it even though you know it isn't the right thing to do. Pinocchio isn't wanting to do something despite knowing it is bad - he doesn't know that what he is doing is wrong, and half the time he didn't even want it anyway. Even the Catholic Church would say he's too much of a baby to be capable of sinning.
In the first incident, Pinocchio doesn't go to school like he was supposed to, and instead runs away with the Cat and the Fox to become an actor. Saying it like that makes Pinocchio sound terrible, but this doesn't take into account Pinocchio's frame of mind. The Cat and the Fox ask Pinocchio where he is going, so he tells them that he is going to school. They act scandalized and reply that school would be a waste of time for him, and that it would be best for him to become an actor. So Pinocchio follows them instead - because he's innocent and gullible, and he believes that the Cat and the Fox are honestly informing him about what is best for him. Pinocchio doesn't know what acting is, and he doesn't even know what school is, so he can't be choosing between them. He doesn't even understand the concept of saying something that is untrue. So, when he is told something, he believes it.
In the second incident, the Cat and the Fox straight-out kidnap Pinocchio. After the whole "acting" thing went so well, Pinocchio tells them that he doesn't want anything to do with them and he's going home to Geppetto. But they grab him and stick him on the carriage to Pleasure Island. He said no, but he was kidnapped! He maybe could have jumped out of the carriage and run away, but he found this new thing interesting, once again because he has no idea what is going to happen. He doesn't even fully realize he's been kidnapped.
While we are arguing that Pinocchio starts as innocent rather than naughty, on the other hand, Jiminy Cricket starts as actually a bad person. He interacts with all the wooden figures in such lewd ways. And he barges in between the Blue Fairy and Pinocchio to make a holier-than-thou speech. The fairy cheekily appoints Jiminy Cricket as Pinocchio's conscience, since he acts so sanctimonious. And, sure enough, in his attempt to live up to the expectation of the Blue Fairy, he tries, but he fails a lot. His whole concern about temptation is actually a projection of his own shortcomings onto the innocent Pinocchio. Jiminy hears the Blue Fairy say that Pinocchio must be "brave, truthful, and unselfish," and he immediately thinks that would be hard. For Pinocchio, these things come easily, if he manages not to be literally kidnapped by the literal devil. But Jiminy Cricket isn't brave, since he abandons Pinocchio whenever he feels like he's being slighted. He isn't truthful, since he claims to want what is best for Pinocchio, but he agrees to be his conscience mostly because the Blue Fairy is just so pretty. And he definitely isn't unselfish: upon being blessed with a fancy new hat, coat, and umbrella, he asks if he could get a golden badge, too. Jiminy Cricket must learn to overcome his flaws to be able to help Pinocchio. The movie is just as much about the growth of Jiminy Cricket as it is about Pinocchio himself.
It's really strange how later Disney media sanitized the character of Jiminy Cricket into such a goody-two-shoes, because... he really isn't, and that's kind of a plotpoint in the movie. It's also really strange how later Disney media also flanderized Pinocchio as a habitual liar, when, in the Disney movie, Pinocchio only lies in one scene, and the shock of his nose growing into a full tree branch complete with birdies, together with the Blue Fairy's explanation, seems to have been enough to make him understand to never lie again.
But in the end, the final arc is that all the bad things that Pinocchio learned during his misadventures turned out to be useful. In Pleasure Island, Pinocchio learned how to smash furniture and start fires, and that is how he saves Geppetto from the whale. And he learns when to think for himself and not always obey everything anyone tells him, allowing him to ignore Geppetto when he tells Pinocchio to abandon him and save himself. We see the entire plot as about gaining experience: you can't be good unless you know what is bad, and then you have to make the choice to be good. It became important and useful for Pinocchio to understand the concepts of lying, chasing the limelight, and shirking responsibility, so that he can understand what is going on around him and use his knowledge for good. At the beginning of the story, he was innocent, and trouble kept happening to him. By the end of the story, he's no longer innocent, but Pinocchio can still be good while he's no longer innocent. In fact, it's the only way for Pinocchio to actually be good, and choose good while understanding the alternative. This is how the Blue Fairy can decide that Pinocchio has proven himself, and so she transforms him into a real boy.
Jiminy Cricket also spends a few moments where his top concern is Pinocchio, and gratitude for Pinocchio's sake, without any regard for his own glory - and that is how he earns his golden badge.