Friday, June 24, 2011

Pinocchio























I went back and forth on this one for some time. Techincally, it’s not a “fairy tale” in the strictest sense, but rather a novel written by Italian author Collodi. But, over the years it’s become part of the pantheon of stories along with Cinderella, Snow White and the rest (something else for which we probably can thank Walt Disney). Also, I thought the dark, complex nature of the original would present an interesting challenge, so I figured it was worth a try.

Speaking of dark, most people don’t realize that the version of the story we know today differs considerably from Collodi’s original intent. Indeed, the story originally ended with Pinocchio commiting suicide! (I promise, it’s true) It was a friend who advised him to add some more adventures and let Pinocchio live, and I think we’re all grateful that he did as the image of a wooden puppet hanging by his neck is the stuff nightmares are made of (it is worth asking how hanging himself would’ve worked when wood doesn’t breathe, but let’s leave that be for the moment).

Of course, most of us know the story best from Walt’s interpretation of 1940 which does take a few liberties. The character of Pinocchio, as originally written, was actually kind of a hellion. A rude, brash, cruel little boy who earned every bit of trouble he got himself into. When a wise talking cricket comes to help him, the puppet kills him with a hammer! Thank God Walt let the cricket live, gave him a name and made him such an indispensable part of the story that virtually every other version since has given Pinocchio an insect sidekick who lives to the end of the story.

Incidentally, the term “Jiminy Cricket” was an exclamation people used to use instead of another phrase which many consider blasphemous (look at the initials, it’ll come to you) before Walt made him a star. Come to think of it, in the movie Jiminy is sort of Pinocchio’s savior…hmm, interesting. But, again, that’s a discussion for another day. Here’s Pinocchio:


There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the greatest puppeteer of all time was a man named Stromboli. His traveling puppet show toured Europe and played before kings and peasants alike, making Stromboli a very wealthy man. And the greatest ambition for any woodcarver of that time was to make puppets for Stromboli’s show. And when the great Stromboli needed the finest puppets in the world, where did he go? To the shop of Geppetto, the woodcarver? This small, humble, elderly old craftsman with the gentle smile and the brilliant hands? Was it Geppetto to whom Stromboli came when he was in need of wooden perfection?

No, of course not, that would be stupid. He went to someone famous instead.

Which is a shame, because Geppetto was an expert woodcarver, and he made the most wonderful things you ever saw out of wood. Toys, games, music boxes, clocks and, of course, puppets. Wooden puppets that hung from strings so when you pulled them, it looked like they were moving around by themselves. What they call "Marionettes," or so I have read.

But even though Geppetto never sold a single puppet to Stromboli, he didn’t mind. He was quite happy with his toy shop, his friends in the village and the children who came to play in his shop every day. In fact, he was very happy overall, except for one thing: He was lonely. At the end of each day, he closed his toy shop and the children went home and poor Geppetto was all alone. No wife, no children of his own. Not even a cat or a goldfish or some kind of clever, talking insect with an umbrella and a top hat.

He did have a good friend in a woodcutter, who provided all the lumber, firewood and so on for the village. But every now and then he would come across a really fine piece of wood, which he would bring round to his friend Geppetto to see if he could make anything out of it. This time, the woodcutter gave Geppetto two pieces of wood. One was pine, the other oak. Good quality, nice and smooth, no knotholes or anything. Just the thing for carving a masterpiece. And that is just what he did. For weeks, even months, whenever he had a free moment, Geppetto would carve a perfect little body out of the pine and a perfect little head out of the oak. He would make a great marionette, a puppet of a little boy. And because he was carved from pine and oak, he gave the puppet the name “Pinocchio!”

“Well, my little Pinocchio,” he said as he put the finishing touches on his creation, “you’re coming along just fine.” It’s not surprising that, in his loneliness, Geppetto would talk to his toys and things as though they could hear him. Maybe some people thought he was crazy, but they all went home to their husbands or wives or children, so they were in no position to criticize a lonely old man. “Wouldn’t it be nice if someday you could dance on the stage of Stromboli’s theatre? You would be the star of the show.” Of course, Geppetto knew this would never happen, and the further he got in creating Pinocchio, the happier it made him. You see, Pinocchio was just like a real little boy, and it made Geppetto happy to pretend that he was really his son. Once or twice, someone in the shop asked to buy Pinocchio, but he always said no. Pinocchio was not for sale.

Finally, he was done. Finished. The paint and varnish had been applied and there was the little wooden boy: Pinocchio! Smiling at his father as though he knew how much the old man had come to love this little puppet. Geppetto was up very late, playing with the puppet, just like a child himself. At last he put Pinocchio away on the shelf and got himself into bed. And just before he fell asleep, he thought to himself, “Oh, how I wish Pinocchio were a real boy.”

Well, it just goes to show that it’s worth making wishes. Cuz you never know when one will be overheard. That night, someone was listening to this nice old man and decided to grant his wish. And the next morning, when Geppetto came down to open his shop he said, “Good morning, Pinocchio.”

And Pinocchio said, “Good morning, sir.”

There was a sort of silence as Geppetto looked around at the puppet, who was smiling up at the old man. “Did you just talk?”

“I think so. Is this what talking sounds like? I wouldn’t know, I’ve never done it before.”

“Pinocchio! You’re alive! My wish came true! Now I have a son!”

“Yay! You have a son!...what is a son?”

“A son is somebody for the poppa to love. And that is who I am. I am your poppa, Pinocchio. And you are my son. So you must do as I tell you, okay?”

“Okay, Poppa.”

Well, all the rest of that day, Geppetto showed Pinocchio around the village and introduced him to everyone. And even though some people were initially freaked out at the sight of a puppet walking around, as soon as they got to know him, they came to like Pinocchio. And the common consensus of the town was that a miracle like this could not have happened to a nicer man than old Geppetto.

And, you know something? We could honestly stop right here if we wanted to. Geppetto is happy with his wooden son, Pinocchio is happy learning about the world from his poppa, everyone in the village is happy to see Geppetto and Pinocchio so happy. In fact, there’s so much happiness going around, it’s a little nauseating. So this could really be our happy ending if we wanted it to be…no? You want to go on? Okay, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Because the fact is, you don’t get a little wooden boy walking around and talking to people without word spreading. Soon the news of a wooden boy who was alive was the talk of the town. Beyond the town, even, the neighboring villages were talking about Pinocchio. So it wasn’t long before news reached that great puppet impressario, Stromboli, and he was very interested. “A puppet that can walk and talk without strings? People would come from miles around to see such a thing.”

So, Stromboli went to Geppetto’s house and asked to buy Pinocchio. Not surprisingly, he was refused, so he had to think of a sneakier plan. The very next day, Stromboli intercepted Pinocchio as the boy was going to school.

“Good morning, little boy!” Pinocchio turned and said good morning to the polite stranger, and was just about to continue on his way to school when Stromboli asked, “Where are you going, young man?”

“I’m on my way to school.”

“Ah! School. So you’re still wasting your time with that nonsense, I see.”

“Nonsense? Poppa says everyone has to go to school to get smart and learn things and make lots of friends.”

“Well,” said Stromboli, with a sinister smile, “I suppose that’s one way to do it. But I think you might be better suited for show biz.”

“Show biz? What’s show biz?” asked Pinocchio.

“The theatre, my boy! The stage! Performing! Singing and dancing! You could be a big star. I can tell you have a lot of talent.”

“Well, couldn’t I go to school and then be a big star?”

“Er…well, normally, yes. But I am only holding auditions for the next hour. If you want to be in my big show, you’d better hurry. Come along, son.”

“But, I don’t want to be late for—”

“Do you want to be a star or not?”

“I guess so, but—” Poor Pinocchio was dragged away to the theatre.


Of course, Pinocchio passed the “audition” with no problem. And that night he made his debut on the stage of Stromboli’s puppet show. As predicted, he was a big hit. He sang and danced a little, but mostly people just wanted to see a block of wood that walked and talked. As a novelty he was a smash. And people applauded and strated throwing money up on stage…and Pinocchio liked it. He thought this was a lot of fun. Maybe the theatre was better than going to school.

But then the show was over and Pinocchio, his pockets full of the gold coins he had picked up from the stage, started for home to tell Geppetto all about his adventure. Just then, Stromboli grabbed him roughly and said, “Where do you think you’re going?”

“I’m going home. I’ll be back tomorrow for the matinee, though.”

“Oh, no you don’t! You belong to me now! You’re going in my trunk with the other puppets. I’ll let you out to perform, but then back you go. And I’ll take that gold you stole from the stage, too!”

“No! No I won’t go in any trunk.” And he started kicking Stromboli as hard as he could. Finally, Stromboli lost his grip on Pinocchio’s arm and he ran home to Geppetto.

“What time do you think it is?” shouted Geppetto, when Pinocchio ran through the front door. “Your teacher tells me you weren’t in school today. I haven’t heard from you, I was worried sick. What have you got to say for yourself?”

Well, Pinocchio had never been in trouble before, and so he decided to do what every little child in the world does when there parents ask them why they came home so late: He lied.

“I was on my way to school when this mean old fox jumped out at me and threw me in a big sack!” As he said this, he felt a sort of tingle on his face, but thought nothing of it. “Then he dragged me all the way to the pier and put me on a steamer going to China!” Now he could really feel his nose tingling. “And when I got there a terrible dragon tried to use me as firewood but then I slew the dragon and…and…what happened to my nose!?” Sure enough, with each new lie, Pinocchio’s nose had grown. Now it was over a foot long.

“You see, my son,” said Geppetto. “A lie can start small, but then it keeps growing and growing. And before you know it, it’s as plain as the nose on your face.”

Pinocchio told Geppetto the truth and as he did so, his nose shrunk back to its usual size. Geppetto was angry with Pinocchio, but when Pinocchio apologized and told him about how mean Stromboli had been, Geppetto knew that he had been punished enough. And, on top of everything else, Pinocchio gave his father the six gold coins he had taken from the stage, which made Geppetto very happy because six gold coins was a lot for a man like Geppetto with a family to take care of.


So the next morning, Pinocchio once again set off for school. Wanting to avoid another run-in with Stromboli,, he took an alternate route to school…unfortunately, being only a week old, he had not yet learned how to navigate his hometown, and he soon got lost. He saw a big crowd of boys and thought they must be going to school, so he followed them. Soon, however, he found himself being loaded with the other boys onto a coach. He tried to explain that he was in the wrong place, but no one listened. The next thing he knew, he was being whisked away in the coach to somewhere unknown. He asked the boy sitting next to him where they were going.

“You don’t know?” said the boy. “We’re going to Pleasure Island!”

“Pleasure Island? We haven’t gotten that far in geography class. What’s Pleasure Island?”

“It’s a great place! There’s rides and games and junkfood and toys and no grownups! No teachers, no cops, no parents! We can do whatever we want! It’s nothing but fun!”

The coach drove right onto a ferry, which sailed out into the sea until it came to a big island, surrounded by a stone wall. The gates were opened and the kids were all ushered inside. Well, Pinocchio knew that he was supposed to be in school…but he thought he could always have a little fun at Pleasure Island before coming home…

But a little fun turned into a lot of fun. And not nice fun, either. Breaking things, eating candy, stomping in the mud, fighting, drinking, gambling. Pinocchio didn’t realize it, but Pleasure Island was a place for bad little boys! Stupid little boys who play hooky from school and tear the heads off their sisters’ dolls. Boys who think it's cool to be stupid and mean and do whatever they want all the time. And poor, na├»ve Pinocchio had no idea what the consequences of his “day of fun” would be.

As soon as it started getting dark, Pinocchio realized he was in trouble again and had to go home to Geppetto right away and take his punishment. But the men who seemed to be in charge of the place wouldn’t let Pinocchio leave. They said there were no boats going back to the mainland and Pinocchio would have to stay. Then he figured out why. You see, if you let a bad little boy just be as bad as he wants with no punishment or boundaries, sooner or later, he makes a jackass out of himself. On Pleasure Island, that was literally true! All around him, all the boys were turning into donkeys! Soon none of them could talk except for loud braying sounds. Pinocchio knew that if he stayed much longer, he’d turn into a donkey too! So he climbed the walls and dove into the sea where, being made of wood, he floated.

Unfortunately, Pinocchio didn’t know how to swim. So all he could do was float. He didn’t know which way his home was, so he just floated in the sea. For three days he floated out to sea. Occassionally, a seagull would land on him and peck at his wooden body for bugs. But when it found none, it flew away. Poor Pinocchio thought he’d be driftwood for the rest of his life…until the day when he saw a large shape moving under the water. It seemed to be circling him. And before he knew what had happened, a giant whale had come up to the surface, opened his enormous mouth and swallowed Pinocchio whole!

Pinocchio was trapped in the belly of a whale! Now he knew he’d never get home to his father. He felt terrible about goofing off at Pleasure Island instead of going to school. He wished he had never gone to Stromboli’s show. He made a vow right then and there to always be good and do as his poppa told him. But wouldn’t you know it? He wasn’t the only one inside the whale.

“Pinocchio?”

“Poppa!” Yes, when Pinocchio had gotten lost again, Geppetto had gone out in search of him. He had asked around and someone said he saw a wooden boy in a carriage which then went out to sea, so he rented a boat and went out to find him. But the whale found him first and swallowed the whole boat, and it was on the deck of this boat that Geppetto and Pinocchio embraced one another, happy to be reunited. Pinocchio told his father the truth about everything that had happened and said he was very sorry.

“It’s all right, Pinocchio,” said Geppetto. “Everythig’s going to be all right. Although I don’t know how we’re going to get out of this whale. You see, the only way out is the mouth, and he only opens it to eat. Then fish, water, and everything else rushes in, but nothing can get out.”

“Well,” said Pinocchio, thinking quickly. “What if the whale sneezed?”

“Sneezed? Well, yes, that might work. But how can we make him sneeze?”

“We’ll light a fire, Poppa! Lots of smoke inside his mouth. He’ll sneeze for sure.”

It was a brilliant plan! They started to work at once. They tore pieces off the boat until it was little more than a raft. Then they lit the extra wood on fire and fanned it to make lots of thick, black smoke. The smoke filled up the inside of the whale and, just as Pinocchio had said, it made the monster sneeze. With a mighty, aquatic “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH-CHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” the tiny raft went flying out of the whale’s mouth and into the open ocean, and the ever-polite Pinocchio just managed to shout a very big "Bless you!" as he and his father went flying past the whale's lips.

But their troubles weren’t over. The raft was too small and damaged from the sneeze. They were sinking. “Hold onto me, Poppa!” shouted Pinocchio and clasped his father’s hands around his middle. Now Geppetto could use Pinocchio as a life presever and stay afloat. Geppetto told Pinocchio to kick with his legs and stroke with his arms and the little wooden boy swam for shore. He swam for all he was worth. He swam until he felt he would pass out and he kept on swimming. He refused to let Geppetto down, not after having come so far. And soon, they made it to the shore…but the swim had been too much for Pinocchio. Geppetto looked at his son and saw that the boy wasn’t moving. He was lying perfectly still, with his eyes closed. Nothing Geppetto could do would revive him.

Pinocchio was dead.

With a heavy heart, Geppetto took his lifeless son home and lay him on his bed. Then, unable to control himself any longer, he fell to his knees and wept openly. He had been given a son. A magical, unique, miraculous son. And now he had been taken away from him. He had died saving his father’s life. And, apparently, whoever had been listening the last time Geppetto made a wish had been paying attention all this time and thought that a selfless act like that deserved a reward.

“Poppa? What’s wrong?”

Geppetto lookd up expecting to see his wooden son revived. But instead he saw something even more shocking. A human child was sitting on the bed, smiling up at Geppetto just as the puppet had done when he had first come to life. And the more Geppetto looked at this little boy the more clear it became: It was Pinocchio! He had turned into a real boy!


Okay, now this is definitely our happy ending, right? Geppetto is happy, Pinocchio is alive and a real boy, and as news of the story spread, Stromboli was run out of business, Pleasure Island was shut down and, as for that whale, I don't know for certain, but I'm pretty sure he's on display at the Smithsonian or something. Geppetto became the most famous woodcarver in the world. He became a great success and he and Pinochio wanted for nothing as long as they lived. And, when he got older, Pinocchio did go back into show business as a legitimate actor and did all right…although, there were some that said his portrayal of Hamlet was a little, er…wooden?

Yeah, sorry about that. The point is, they all lived happily ever after.

THE END

If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  • Pinocchio (1940) Though not particularly successful in its initial theatricla run, most film critics call this the most technically perfect Disney film of the early years of the studio. Gave us Jiminy (who , as I said, has become an indispensible part of the story) and the unofficial “Disney theme song,” in “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Interestingly, Mel Blanc recorded all the dialogue for the cat, Gideon, but when they decided the character should be silent, all they kept of his vocal track was a single hiccup. That hiccup marks the only time Blanc ever recorded a voice for a Disney cartoon.
  • Pinocchio (TV)(1972) This musical production stars Sandy Duncan as Pinocchio and Danny Kaye as Geppetto. Also features Flip Wilson as the fox who leads him astray. I stole the “son is somebody for the poppa to love” line from this production as it just struck me as such a sweet moment.
  • “Faerie Tale Theatre” (TV) Paul “Pee-Wee Herman” Rubens plays the wooden boy in this episode which also features James Coburn, Carl Reiner, Michael Richards and James Belushi
  • Geppetto (TV)(2000) A novel re-telling of the story through the woodcutter’s eyes. Drew Carey, Brent Spiner, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Renee Auberjonois and Usher star, with original songs by Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked,” “Pippin,” “The Prince of Egypt”)
NEXT WEEK: "Snow White and Rose Red"