Blu-ray Review: Pinocchio

June 9, 2009

pinocchio-blu-ray“A lie keeps growing and growing, until it’s as plain as the nose on your face,” -Evelyn Venable as the Blue Fairy. It was my intention to buy all the Disney classics on Blu-ray based solely on how good  ‘Sleeping Beauty’ turned out. Although I have to admit to being a little skeptical that another animated film could be as impressive as beauty, but of course I’m more than willing to give it a go.

I honestly can’t remember the first time I saw Pinocchio but I’m assuming Carter was in office and gas was about 60 cents a gallon. I remembered so little of the film; it was as if I’d never seen it, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a review. If you’re a classic Disney fan, I really shouldn’t have to go into great detail about what makes these films so special. In their simplest form, the early Disney films are life lessons disguised as entertainment. Some may prefer to leave to the lessons to parents but in my estimation the values taught here are about as universal as they come and certainly tame by today’s standards. (Song of the South being a notable exception)

Plot: On the off chance that you’re among the handful unfamiliar with Pinocchio, or just get it confused with all the other animated Disney tales, it is the story of a puppet carved from wood who dreams of becoming a real boy, (Ok bad pun time, I considered typing “a wood be boy”. Ah never mind, it wasn’t nearly as funny the second time around) and of course he has a rather unique physical reaction to lying. By now, Pinocchio is so ingrained in pop culture that some of the scenes may feel a bit surreal. Luckily I found the pristine new transfer and crystal clear soundtrack were more enough to offer a fresh, new look at the film.

Sight & Sound: For the record, my Blu-ray player du jour is a PS3 updated for firmware revision 2.76, all other related hardware used for the review can be found in my profile on the about page. Before we start with any analysis of image quality you should know about the controversy surrounding the accuracy of the films recent digital restoration, specifically the assertion that the color palette has been tweaked substantially, presumably to give it more appeal to modern audiences. (For the record, most accounts of this spring from a single amazon.com review) While this sort of tweaking is nothing new, unfortunately neither is the endless debate over what’s original or accurate. Truth be told, it’s entirely likely that we haven’t seen the film as originally intended since its 1940 premiere.

I’ve compared the Blu-ray to the Limited Issue DVD (circa 1999) and I’d be hard pressed to give a definitive statement either way on whether the Blu-ray goes beyond a mere restoration. Here are a few of the things I did notice however, the Blu-ray contains less film grain than the 1999 release (contrary to popular belief this isn’t a good thing) and the color palette does indeed seem different. Notice I said different not necessarily wrong or inaccurate. In a nutshell, I suppose the best way to characterize the Blu-ray release is that it looks less like classic animation and more like the computer generated features of late. One could assume this was intentional.

Now having said that, I should temper my review with the fact I consider myself a film-purist not a film-masochist. If reasonable improvements can be made through technical advancements, I’m all for it as long as it adds and doesn’t detract from the original film. Unfortunately I find myself straddling the fence on whether or not the new color palette, and grain-wash (TM) goes too far or not. It’s entirely possible that previous home video versions were actually under-saturated, which might account for some of the difference. What I do know is the disc looks great and comparing color palettes of previous home video versions that may have been in error themselves is a bit of a fool’s errand.

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Rather than belabor the color palette and grain-wash for the rest of the review, I’ll leave it be and just say that regardless of any potential stylistic shortcomings this is still a fine looking disc and worthy of sharing shelf space with ‘Sleeping Beauty’ on Blu-ray or any other top-notch animated film, for that matter. The blacks are deep, dark, and crisp, and colors certainly pop off the screen. The restored soundtrack was a treat as well. Not only was there deep, pronounced bass (something not always present in classic animation films), but the upper frequencies were clean, detailed and realistic. Well, as realistic as a talking puppet permits.

Extras: The 70th anniversary edition of Pinocchio on Blu-ray is touted as a special two disc set, but it’s technically three if you count the standard DVD that’s included. Quite a little bundle, eh? But back to the real extras, aside from enduring the usual smattering of Disney pre-feature spam, er, I mean trailers and shorts, I was anxious to get to the BD-Live features.  After nearly an hour of trying to create an account I gave up on Sleeping Beauty’s BD-Live extras and I wasn’t all that confident about Pinocchio’s either. But alas, this time it worked. I now have my very own little tiny sliver of hard drive space on Disney’s BD-Live servers, or with whoever they farm that job out too.

Among the BD-Live features are, “Disney Movie Chat” which allows you to sync, watch and chat about the movie with friends; “Disney Movie Challenge”, a competitive trivia game that can be played with other Disney BD-Live participants; “Disney Movie Mail”, an extra that sends a video clip, along with a message from you to a friend; and “Disney Movie Rewards”, in a nutshell you receive points for buying Disney video products and this is where you enter the product codes and redeem the points.

Listen folks, I love extras like the next guy and I like BD-Live just fine but let’s be honest, what we’ve really got here is two ways to talk about the movie, a chat game, and a way to “redeem” the virtual points you received for buying the disc. I certainly hope better implementations of BD-Live are forthcoming (I’m sure they are) and hopefully features like these won’t become the status quo on Disney Blu-ray discs.

Luckily the standard extras are more in-line with what I’ve come to expect from Disney and in particular, their anniversary series discs. The films aspect ratio is 4:3 but Disney created a neat way to utilize the blank space beside the image. One uses paintings by Toby Bluth called ‘Disney View’ to frame out the image to 16:9. The other is called ‘Cine-Explore’ and features commentary with Leonard Maltan and various Disney insiders. I opted to watch the film in 4:3 to diminish any distractions while assessing the video quality, but I did check both features afterwards. I recommend them both but keep in mind the commentary is constant with Cine-Explore. Save that one until after seeing the film all the way through at least once.

The second disc contains various games including ‘Pleasure Island’ (think carnival games) and Pinocchio’s puzzles which consist of, you guessed it, puzzles. The real meat and potatoes here though is “Backstage Disney” which includes some great documentary features. One in particular called, “The Sweatbox” gives great insight into Disney’s animation process. There’s also live action reference footage for various scenes, a feature called “No Strings Attached: The Making of Pinocchio”, deleted scenes, and more. This stuff gets an A+, well done Disney.

Overall: Watching Pinocchio after all these years was a wonderful experience. I’m not the least bit afraid to say that a few of the scenes that tugged at my heart as a boy were thoroughly tugged again. I feel my job as a reviewer is to give you enough information to ultimately make your own decision, not necessarily to justify my own. Given that, I’d say for all but the most hardcore film purists among us, Pinocchio on Blu-ray is a marked improvement over previous versions. To be quite honest, all that stopped me from giving the disc a 5 of 5 stars image rating was the deliberate removal of film grain; I just don’t go for that sort of thing. Either way, if you’re a fan of classic Disney animation, Pinocchio on Blu-ray is a no brainer.

Plot:5.0
Image:4.0
Sound:4.0
Extras:4.0
Overall:4.0



Blu-ray: Pinocchio
Aspect Ratio: 1.35:1
Video: MPEG-4 1080p
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 & Dolby Digital
Studio: Disney
Theatrical Release Date: February 7, 1940
Blu-ray Release Date: March 10, 2009
Run Time: 88 minutes



Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Blu-ray, Reviews


Comments

  • bgreenway

    test

  • bgreenway

    No doubt, I assume this is just the tip of the iceberg though. First it was Lucas and his never ending star wars revisions, then it was digitizing the guns in ET into walkie talkies, now grain. Yep, feeling older and older all the time.

  • Perhaps for us older folk the grain wash may look a little strange, but I think it's for the kids. I'm not sure the kids these days are interested in watching something that “looks old” ya know.
    I guess it's kinda like adding color to old black and white movies.