The History of Disney Animation – Part 2 Pinocchio

Image from: Wikipedia, Pinocchio (1940 film), <; [accessed 11/5/2017]
Pinocchio had a tough act to follow but it is often credited with being one of Disney’s finest achievements and being a hugely important film within the history of the studio and animation.[1] The original story was written by Carlo Collodi and was a series in a magazine in 1881.[2] Disney does not seem to have considered Pinocchio as much of a feature. It was suggested as a short by Mrs K. Evans, (friend of the family) in a letter of April 1935 and was ultimately suggested as a feature film by Ben Sharpsteen to Walt.[3] So compared to Snow White, there is less of a personal connection to Disney himself. But very little is known about why Walt finally decided upon Pinocchio as a feature.

Nevertheless, story boarding began in March 1938; delayed by the pressure to finish and release Snow White.[4] It was developed in conjunction with another film Bambi, which originally was going to be the second feature the studios released but because they were not sure how to do Bambi and believed Pinocchio to be the easier one, the number 2 title was transferred.[5]

But the development of Pinocchio at the beginning was not easy. Firstly, Walt seemed to be more aloof from this project, only really showing an interest when development on the Monstro the Whale scene was being discussed.[6] Secondly, was Pinocchio himself. The design of this character seems to have plagued the studio. At first, he was designed as a puppet but Walt did not feel any sympathy for the character and as such, halted production on the film.[7] Additionally, in the original source material, Pinocchio is an ‘impudent rogue’, naughty and cruel.[8] Again, this feeds into Walt’s concerns that the character was not what Disney wanted to put on the screen. Whilst trying to animate an underwater scene for Pinocchio, Milt Kahl started to redesign the character both physically and mentally.[9] Pinocchio was made less cruel and more innocent. Likewise, Kahl reversed the designing process for Pinocchio. Instead of making a puppet look like a boy, he made a boy look like a puppet.[10] This design, with a few tweaks, was accepted by Walt after 18 months of designing and production recommenced with a redesigning of other characters such as Jiminy Cricket (who became more than just the bug who was squashed by Pinocchio as was in the original story!).[11]

The story itself went through many re-writes because of the change in direction that the film was going. But even then, just like in Snow White but perhaps even greater, scenes were cut from the story such as Pinocchio’s underwater adventure with a sunken ship and an octopus.[12] Apparently, 2,300 ft of footage was scrapped because Walt believed it ‘missed the feeling he had in mind’.[13]

Pinocchio seems to have been a mix between the old and the new. Albert Hunter, who helped design Snow White, returned to help the studio’s designs but this was complemented by a new member, Gustaf Tenggren, who had a big impact on the film’s design e.g. the street designs in the village.[14] This film also saw the founding of the dominance of the 9 old men. These were a group of 9 animators who have gone down in Disney legend for being so skilled and for working with Walt on these early and pioneering films.[15] These men were:

Les Clark

Marc Davis

Ollie Johnston

Milt Kahl

Ward Kimball

Eric Larson

John Lounsbery

Wolfgang Reitherman

Frank Thomas[16]

These core animators began to take over from those artists who had established the Disney form of animation in the 1930s.[17] With regards to the actual film production, rotoscoping was still in use for referencing live actor’s ideas and movements and the multiplane camera was a key part of the filming process.[18] But the multiplane camera had benefitted from years of development and so now movement could not only be in or out; approach could be from any direction.[19] Old and new can also be seen with the music department. Leigh Harline, the chief composer of the music had previously worked on some of the Silly Symphonies such as The Band Concert (1935) and Grass Hopper and the Ants (1934).[20] Just like Snow White, the songs were wanted in order to advance the plot of the film – this was something Disney was doing way before Broadway tried it with Oklahoma.[21]

One thing that was also old but new was the use of models. Some models had been developed during Snow White’s production by Joe Grant, but this was expanded during Pinocchio’s production.[22] The clocks that appear in Gepetto’s workshop were made as life size models, likewise the Coachman’s coach and Stromboli’s wagon.[23] But the models went further than just being a reference for the animators. Stromboli’s wagon was used in a clever way. They built a miniature of the wagon and filmed it going along the track that it would in the film, bumps and all. Once filmed from the angles they needed, they blew up the frames to create relief cells and combined them with the character animation.[24] All this helped to create a better and more realistic looking coach when on screen.

The film was also ground breaking for its effects and music. Effects such as Stromboli’s wagon were combined with new work to ensure realistic waves.[25] The effects in this movie are all highly praised by historians and animators alike.[26] Similarly the clever use of instruments such as the Novachord, helped to create some of the more magical chimes that you hear within the picture.[27]

What I think we see again with Pinocchio is the determination for perfection. We have already seen how the story was refined and numerous feet of film was discarded from the final cut. The money from Snow White, it is claimed, allowed Walt to purse perfection for this picture and in the end the final film cost the studio $2.3 million: twice as much as Snow White.[28]

So what was the return on this money? Pinocchio premiered on the 7th February 1940 and was called a masterpiece from the beginning by the critics.[29] Even people who had been critical of Snow White, like Archer Winsten, praised this picture.[30] It earned Disney’s first ever Oscar for best score and best song.[31] But the film was not the public, financial hit that Snow White was.[32] It only made back $2 million during its first showing.[33] There has been many theories as to why Pinocchio did not make the money it was hoped. The main one is that World War Two had broken out and thus meant that the film could not reach all of the markets it once had.[34] Other theories have included the idea that people did not want a fable during a time of war and that the dark subject matter was putting people off and frightening young children.[35] Nevertheless, despite this, its second release saw the film begin to make a profit and today it is hailed as one of Disney’s greatest works by historians, those in the animation business and by the public.

Seven Facts for Seven Dwarfs:

  • Figaro was Walt’s favourite character and went on to become Minnie Mouse’s pet.[36]
  • It was made while the animation studios were moving from the old Hyperion Lot to the new studios in Burbank.[37]
  • Gideo the cat was meant to speak originally and was meant to be voiced by Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck![38]
  • It was the first animated film to win a ‘competitive Oscar’.[39]
  • An exhibition was put on for the artwork of Pinocchio in the Brooklyn Museum and 2 other art galleries in New York.[40]
  • Pinocchio means ‘little wooden head’.[41]
  • Over 2,000,000 drawings were made for the film with 300,000 appearing in the final edit.[42]

Thank you for reading and I hope you have enjoyed reading this mini history!


[1] Youtube, The Making of Pinocchio, <; [accessed 10/5/2017].

[2] Movie fone, Disney’s ‘Pinocchio’: 25 Thing you didn’t know about the animated classic, <; [accessed 10/5/2017]

[3] Disney Wikipedia, Pinocchio, <; [accessed 10/5/2017].

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid; Youtube, The Making of Pinocchio.

[6] Disney Wikipedia, Pinocchio.

[7] Youtube, The Making of Pinocchio.

[8] Disney Wikipedia, Pinocchio.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid; Oh My Disney, 10 things you didn’t know about Pinocchio, <; [accessed 10/5/2017].

[11] Youtube, The Making of Pinocchio.

[12] Weldon Owen, The Making of the Disney Epic, <; [accessed 10/5/2017]

[13] Movie fone, Disney’s ‘Pinocchio’.

[14] Youtube, The Making of Pinocchio; Disney Wikipedia, Pinocchio.

[15] Disney Wikipedia, Disney’s Nine Old Men, <; [accessed 11/05/2017].

[16] All names from: Ibid.

[17] Disney Wikipedia, Pinocchio.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Movie fone, Disney’s ‘Pinocchio’.

[20] Youtube, The Making of Pinocchio.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Disney Wikipedia, Pinocchio.

[23] Oh My Disney, 10 things; Youtube, The Making of Pinocchio.

[24] Youtube, The Making of Pinocchio.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid; Movie fone, Disney’s ‘Pinocchio’.

[29] Movie fone, Disney’s ‘Pinocchio’.

[30] Disney Wikipedia, Pinocchio.

[31] Oh My Disney, 10 things.

[32] Disney Wikipedia, Pinocchio.

[33] Movie fone, Disney’s ‘Pinocchio’.

[34] Disney Wikipedia, Pinocchio.

[35] Ibid; Christopher Finch, The Art of Walt Disney Animation: from Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdom, (London: Virgin, 1999), p. 63.

[36] Oh My Disney, 10 things.

[37] Finch, The Art of Walt Disney Animation, p. 63.

[38] Movie fone, Disney’s ‘Pinocchio’.

[39] Movie fone, Disney’s ‘Pinocchio’.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.


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