On February 7, 1940, Walt Disney organized the premiere of “Pinocchio” in a prestigious place: the Center Theater in New York. 11 small people, disguised as Pinocchio, are in charge of the animation. But things will go wrong.
In the teeming pool of inspirations from Disney films, tales, fairy tales or not, naturally feature prominently and draw heavily from the writings of authors such as Charles Perrault, the Grimm brothers; Hans Christian Andersen, author of The little Mermaid. Or Carlo Collodi, the author of Adventures of Pinocchiowritten and published between 1881 and 1882 as a serial in an Italian newspaper.
A literary monument of great darkness
A masterpiece of children’s literature, Pinocchio is one of the best-selling Italian literary works of the 20th century in the country. We find there the trio of the film, namely the puppet, Gepetto and Jiminy Cricket, which has a much less important role than in the Disney film, and only appears in chapter 4.
In the tale, Pinocchio is a horrible rascal, who always does as he pleases, lies all the time of course and disobeys adults. Worse, he doesn’t seem to learn or retain any lessons from his misadventures. He has no regard for Jiminy Cricket, to the point of throwing a hammer at him, which crushes him. Radical.
Later in his journey, he inadvertently burns his feet: “As he no longer had the strength to stand, Pinocchio sat down on a small stool and put his two feet on the stove to dry them. He ended up falling asleep, and his wooden feet began to burn in his sleep. Slowly, very slowly, they blackened and turned to ashes.”
Gepetto may lovingly build new feet for him, but Pinocchio runs away from his home just as dryly. Poor Gepetto even finds himself arrested and imprisoned, after Pinocchio claims that the old man mistreated him…
We also find Jiminy Cricket later in the story, this time as a ghost, who tries (again!) to dissuade Pinocchio from following the advice of shady individuals, who claim that planting in the ground gold coins can grow a golden tree…
Of course, the unbearable puppet does not care, to the point of ending up downright hanged by these sinister individuals. Originally, this end, of a crazy darkness, was to end the story of Carlo Collodi. But the editor of the newspaper in which the tale was published frowned, to the point of asking the author to review his copy by changing the ending, which he wanted to be lighter and more optimistic. Hence the idea of the blue fairy, who saves the puppet from certain death.
A battalion of small people to do the animation
If the Disney version greatly waters down the original work – and we understand that, it still retains a certain darkness, and even a certain cruelty. Building on the critical and public triumph of his first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney now sees things very big.
He thus hires a battalion of 1,000 animators, supposed to allow him to release a feature film every six months. Three feature films are thus in preparation: Bambi, Fantasia and Pinocchio. The latter’s budget explodes that of Snow Whitewhose production had already required the mortgage of the house of Walt Disney.
On February 7, 1940, Disney and the RKO, distributor of its films, organized the preview of Pinocchio in a prestigious location: the Center Theater in New York. You have to hit as hard as for Snow White, which enjoyed five weeks of exposure at New York’s Radio City Music Hall; a great first for this mythical room.
Putting the small dishes in the big ones, a buffet is even planned, as well as alcohol in abundance. Eleven short people are also hired. Disguised as Pinocchio, perched on the awning of the room, they are in charge of the animation, just to make the children wait, accompanied by their parents, in the queue.
The day is endless for them, stuck on this imitation rooftop, in addition to having to put up with an impractical costume in the overwhelming heat. It is still planned to supply them with food, as well as alcohol. In this case Gin and Whiskey. Not exactly the best idea…
The eleven dwarves quickly became drunk. From the beginning of the afternoon, they get downright naked, start fighting among themselves, play craps. Without forgetting to take as witness the crowd below, dumbfounded, who attends this spectacle. She even receives a few rounds of insults. The parents are logically horrified by the spectacle offered by this now freewheeling gang.
The police are called in to help put an end to this circus that we imagine to be a bit embarrassing for Disney. Climbing on the awning using a ladder, the Police try to apprehend the eleven drilles, who start running in all directions to escape them. They will end up being embedded in pillowcases.
Unfortunately, there is no visible image of this preview, except for a rare photo partially visible above. For the firm with big ears, it’s not necessarily worse…