Iconic movies and stories deeply ingrained in the narrative of society can often lose their substantive impact with time. Disney released perhaps their greatest animated film "Pinocchio" in 1940 while the second world war was well under way and America was not yet directly involved in Europe's most bloody crisis of moral identity.
Yet, moral identity is the principle theme of Pinocchio. The story goes much deeper than "don't lie or your nose will grow". The film is packed with religious symbolism, philosophical narrative and deep questions about mankind's role in civil society. The story is in fact, far darker and more terrifying than you may have ever realized.
Carlo Collodi wrote the original children's book The Adventures of Pinocchio in 1883. Italy was recently unified and Europe was enjoying it's global domination during the Victorian age. Collodi used the story of Pinocchio to express his own political views in an age ripe for monumental change to the cultural structures of the day.
The book is a charming collection of allegories and instructive moral lessons for children. The character of Pinocchio is far more of a misfit prone to defiance than the sweet gullible child presented in the Disney film. Pinocchio goes through many strange and wayward adventures that are not presented in the film version.
Collodi used the book to express his own political leanings. At one point in the book Pinocchio finds himself on the Island of Busy Bees. Pinocchio is lost and hungry and is looking for a kind soul to give him some money to eat.
Collodi was clearly making an example of Pinocchio as a lazy wooden boy who needed to learn to earn his own way in the world and not expect to get by on handouts.
Just forty years earlier Karl Marx published The Communist Manifesto. Marx's book was becoming very popular in Europe and Collodi wasn't mincing his words about how he felt about collectivism. The Adventures of Pinocchio grew in popularity and attracted the fascination of the youth in Italy and around Europe.
In the years following the publication of The Adventures of Pinocchio Italy fell under the grasp of Fascism under Benito Mussolini. The character of Pinocchio was used to push Pro-Fascist propaganda.
Using the beloved character of Pinocchio in this manner almost certainly wasn't the intent of Collodi. Still, the character was an effective tool to get the message across to the youth of Italy.
Disney bought the rights to the story and tuned Pinocchio into the sweet, sincere and gullible character known by millions today. The movie itself is beautifully done and stands as a high water mark for animated films. Beyond the films beauty, it was clear that the directors and animators of the movie had more to add to the story presented in the book.
As the opening credits roll the song "When You Wish Upon A Star" plays. A tenor voice opens with the lyrics:
When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires will come to you
If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star as dreamers do
Less discernibly, a choir of angelic voices sing the following:
Fate is kind, she brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of their secret longing
The tenor re-enters:
Like a bolt out of the blue, fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star your dreams come true
The songs message is that anyone, no matter their socio-economic status, gender, or initial position in life can achieve anything. The song implies that we all have limitless potential. When you or anyone set your eyes above the horizon into the transcendent and set a great worthy goal, it can be attained.
The goal has to be authentic (if your heart is in your dream) and greater than the mundane (no request is too extreme).
If it seems too fanciful to be believed, imagine that perhaps the wisher of this dream must adopt the knowledge, discipline and follow-through to make this dream a reality. You must be willing to become the type of person who is worthy of this goal.
If you go through life believing that life is ultimately meaningless, then you're out of the running to achieve anything of significance in your life. Once you find the meaning of your life and then aim your intention at the star, thus aligning yourself to that ultimate meaning then you can have it all. Anything your heart desires.
The tenor voice singing the opening song is found to belong to a friendly anthropomorphic bug in a suit and top hat. This is Jiminy Cricket. The cricket in the Collodi book played a very minor role called the "Talking Cricket" who was immediately killed by Pinocchio.
Disney transformed The Talking Cricket into the timeless Jiminy Cricket that we all know today.
Jiminy takes on the role as Pinocchio's conscience. Not so subtly, Disney sets Jiminy Cricket up to play the role of Jesus Christ (J.C). People from the American south even proclaim "Jiminy Cricket!" in a distressful situation to replace exclaiming "Jesus Christ!" One's conscience can be thought of as a moral compass just like religion is for many people around the world. Jiminy even says your conscience is:
Your conscience is also the thing that "bugs" you when you are about to do something immoral.
The movie has a clear Christian underbelly but mixes up Paganism as well (the Blue Fairy for example). Christianity as a social construct was still intact in 1940 and seeing a Christ-like character in a film from this time is not too far a stretch of the imagination. Many people still wear a WWJD bracelet to remind themselves of what Jesus would do if they were in any given situation where a moral temptation is present.
Geppetto- The Benevolent Creator
Jiminy Cricket finds shelter in the home of a woodworker named Geppetto. The woodworker is shown to be kind and affable, adoring his kitten and goldfish Figaro and Cleo. Around the shop is a collection of beautifully constructed clocks. Creations of wonder, but still mechanical constructions bound to the passing of time and untethered to a consciousness.
Geppetto has a wish in his heart. His wish is that his marionette, Pinocchio was a real boy. He wishes to see that his creation be granted a life of it's own.
Geppetto is the Judeo-Christian God in this story. Wishing to create man in his own image and see him animated from the clay, or wood in this case. God is often referred to as "The Creator" and the West has often portrayed God as being loving and benevolent.
Geppetto uses wood for his creations. Wood is terrestrial and Geppetto can be also thought of as a symbol for earthly man. The male yang in the dichotomy of existence. Any father wishes for his son to be an actualized individual, not a mere puppet bound to ignorance. Geppetto wishes upon a star and makes his request known.
Geppetto isn't just wishing upon a star. He is seen kneeling, and folding his hands in a state of prayer. Religion is once again heavily present in the film. Geppetto is making a request to the divine.
Remember that the words "real boy" are a metaphor.
Real Boy = Autonomous Individual
To be a "real boy" means to not be a puppet to ideologies or bound to existing institutions. To think for yourself, be critical of authority and especially to authoritarians. Don't be bound to the strings you are born into. Think for yourself and cut these strings as soon as you are able to stand on your own.
The Blue Fairy- Deus Ex Machina
After Geppetto's prayer, in the middle of the night The Blue Fairy descends from the star and enters Geppetto's workshop. She is an avatar of fate, the celestial divine and mother nature. She is the feminine counterpart to Geppetto's masculine. The Blue Fairy grants life to Geppetto's puppet. This is a metaphor for human birth, the "miracle of life". Pinocchio even refers the The Blue Fairy as his mother in The Adventures of Pinocchio. The Blue Fairy is Pinocchio's anima.
In Italian, "anima" means "soul". Anima also means "that which animates". Through the fairy, Pinocchio becomes infused with a soul, a consciousness and the ability to begin thinking for himself.
Yet, Pinocchio is still a marionette. He's still made of wood, not flesh and blood. The Blue Fairy outlines a condition before Pinocchio becomes a real boy:
If we apply this to young children and their upbringing we can see that effective parenting involves the same requests. How many adults do you know who are brave, truthful and unselfish? If you do, then you are probably thinking of people who made the journey into the realm of autonomous individuals. We don't see brave, honest and unselfish people on reality television or in the world of politics. In this sense, we see puppets controlled by corporations and the confines of a self-image that doesn't align with reality.
If you wish to be a "real boy/girl" then you must raise yourself up from the role of a puppet controlled by outside influence and be your own person. You must become self-reliant and impervious to outside influence like the government and the media.
Honest John- The Deceiver
Pinocchio's birth and early childhood are condensed into a single evening filled with joy. This joy is short lived as the very next day trouble begins for Pinocchio. On the way to his first day of school Pinocchio is entrapped by a fox and a cat. The fox is the leader of the duo with a slick tongue and a gift for persuasion. The cat is mute and is a play on Harpo Marx from the Marx brothers. A subtle hint at the dangers of Marxism may be at play even here.
The fox goes by the name of Honest John, surely false advertising at it's most explicit. Honest John is the classic huckster common in the 19th and early 20th century. Also known as snake-oil salesmen these transient con-men would roam the countryside looking for gullible people to entice. These hucksters were gifted orators but were often fairly illiterate as intimated in this scene where Honest John attempts to read Pinocchio's school book.
A fraud through and through, Honest John could represent anyone you may meet in life who takes advantage of your good intentions. Psychopaths are masters of manipulation and make no mistake, Honest John is a psychopath.
Tempting Pinocchio with the lure of fame, Honest John convinces Pinocchio that he could be a famous actor if he joins Stromboli's puppet show. Despite Jiminy Cricket's appeals for Pinocchio to turn around and go back to school Pinocchio follows Honest John along with the lure of a catchy hook.
It's interesting that the young Pinocchio is enticed by the notion of instant fame. Many young people see instant success on reality television and assume that the hard work and discipline involved in being a true artist is not a necessary component. Only very rare talents are instantly successful and even then their talents are often exploited for profit.
Nationalism and Stromboli
One must pause and consider that a children's film depicting a greedy, manipulative gypsy (possibly of Jewish origin) could only happen at or before 1940.
Disney is not being subtle at all in the depiction of Stromboli the puppet master. Stromboli is an exploiter and a profiteer. Music labels often offer artists unfair contracts so they essentially become the artists puppet master. Stromboli definitely fills in the role of music label CEO with intentions that misalign with their artists.
I am also inclined to believe that Stromboli represents the global communist threat the world was under at the time. Consider Stromboli's strong eastern-European accent and the fact that each of the nations represented in Pinocchio's song lean further and further towards Marxism.
In order for an idea like a global communist revolution to be successful, the idea needs many individuals to buy into it. An ideology needs willing puppets.
Pinocchio proclaims that there are no strings on him when ironically, he is captive to the will of the tyrannical Stromboli. When Pinocchio tries to go home Stromboli locks him into a cage. That's an appropriate analogy when you consider how political dissidents were locked into the cruel Soviet gulag system.
Redemption And Grace
Pinocchio is enslaved to the tyrannical Stromboli in his traveling puppet show. Jiminy Cricket climbs onto the carriage and can't help Pinocchio get out. The Blue Fairy then reappears to come to Pinocchio's aid. When the fairy asks Pinocchio how we wound up in his cage, Pinocchio lies and his nose grows.
This is perhaps the most memorable part of the movie, in part because we all have experience with lying even at a very young age. It is notable that the Blue Fairy does not punish Pinocchio for his lies. Instead she says to him:
Mark Twain once said, "If you tell the truth the you don't have to remember anything." The problems that liars face is that they have to keep lying to keep from getting caught. So far, Pinocchio is doing a terrible job at being brave, truthful and unselfish. In any case, the Blue Fairy shows mercy on poor Pinocchio and sets him free.
This is a reflection of the Christian idea of Grace. That no matter how undeserving humanity is salvation is ours if we truly repent for our sins.
The Coachman- Satan Incarnate
At this point Pinocchio could be considered the unfortunate victim of circumstance. He escapes the tyranny of a puppet master through the grace of his celestial mother and has another chance to become a real boy. Meanwhile, darker forces are at play that will lead Pinocchio into even more trouble.
I will contend that The Coachman is the worst of all Disney villains. I would even put him into the running of worst villains in all of cinema. He is an exploiter of children, a barely veiled pedophile and the embodiment of all corruption in the heart of man. Man’s inherent evil made flesh.
More than just a profiteer like the low level crooks of the fox and cat. Not just a greedy possessive tyrant like Stromboli. The Coachman is in the business of child trafficking and slavery. What other Disney character can make the same claim? Beyond this, he portrays the corruption of ideologies and governments that prey upon the weak-minded.
The Coachman wants "Stupid little boys." which shocks Honest John when he realizes what kind of monster he is dealing with.
Honest John once again lures the gullible Pinocchio into a trap by giving him the false diagnosis that he is ill and in need of a vacation to Pleasure Island. Pinocchio begins to believe that he is a victim and can't resist the prospect of getting away from responsibility for a while. Pinocchio then goes with The Coachman and a group of young boys to the island.
The Braying Jackasses of Pleasure Island
Collodi and Disney are expressing a metaphor for moral corruption and hedonism in the role of Pleasure Island. The implication that a lack of self discipline and a constant impulsive pursuit of vice will eventually lead to slavery.
On Pleasure Island the young boys are encouraged to engage in all manner of excess. Free food, games, beer, cigars and the wanton destruction of property. All the while, none of the boys on the island question what the penalty for such behavior could possibly be.
Pinocchio befriends a young boy named Lampwick, an odd name. A lamp's wick is the object in the center of a candle that burns when you light it. God's name for Lucifer was "bringer of light". "Lampwick" is play on "Lucifer".
Lampwick is brash, bold and confident. He walks with a strut and seems to know everything that's going on. Lampwick is inauthentically placing himself high on the dominance hierarchy amongst the young boys. Pinocchio is automatically drawn to Lampwick's false bravado.
The young boys of Pleasure Island soon discover that they are transforming into donkeys. The Coachman has lured them onto the island to get free labor to work as beasts of burden. Note the shadowy black figures that assist in the boys slavery.
It is a sobering display of cruelty. A vision of hell captured on film under the guise of a children's movie.
The writers and animators are not merely portraying a fantasy scenario. This is what happens to humans throughout history. People are marginalized, targeted, raped, murdered and enslaved over and over again through the ages. This is the story of human history, the dark backstory to human achievements brought on by the blood, tears and toil of untold millions.
More so than this, people still experience this form of mental slavery today. Those that engage in a life of constant hedonism and selfishness early in their lives wind up enslaved later on in life. They wind up enslaved to an ideology, a job they despise or a loveless marriage (sold to the salt mines, sold to the circus) and spout someone else's opinion like a braying jackass incapable of their own thoughts. You see them every day on social media. They share and repost whatever propaganda that they have bought into and have no original ideas to back up their mindless meandering.
Then they call it "being an individual".
Remember this, meditate on this and contemplate it for the next several weeks. If you're doing it right, the quote should terrify you and change you and the way you see the world.
Lampwick is transforming into a donkey right before Pinocchio's eyes. In the realization of his fate, Lampwick is reduced to a hysterical mess begging Pinocchio for help. Lucifer's sin was the sin of pride.
Pinocchio begins to transform himself but with the help of Jiminy Cricket is able to escape the island before he could fully transform.
Entering Hell- The Belly Of The Whale
Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket return to Geppetto's house to find that no one is home. The Blue Fairy returns in the form of a dove to drop off a letter saying that Geppetto has been swallowed by Monstro the whale.
Without a moment of hesitation, Pinocchio heads towards the sea to rescue his father. Jiminy Cricket follows him into the depths of the sea.
Every fish that Pinocchio asks about the whereabouts of Monstro swims away in fear. Monstro is such a monster that no fish would be foolish enough to face him.
Note that Jiminy Cricket is riding a seahorse that looks like a donkey. This was an obvious allusion by Disney that once an individual becomes a braying jackass, the best they could hope to do is assist in the genuine hero's goals.
The story has taken a particularly bizarre turn. Let's unpack the intention here.
Tiamat was the dragon of chaos in ancient Mesopotamian mythology that lived at the bottom of the ocean. Marduk, Tiamat's son Marduk must destroy Tiamat to save the world from chaos. The story is very old and has been recounted in many different forms. The hero must enter into the unknown and slay the dragon.
At the end of the original Star Wars trilogy Luke Skywalker redeems his father, who is also the main villain throughout the story. Luke rescues his father from the grasps of the evil emperor and saves him from the dark side moments before his death. The hero must save his father, tale as old as time.
Not everyone is willing to take on such a responsibility, which is why you see all the fish scatter when faced with the prospect of approaching Monstro.
Pinocchio has finally adopted the bravery and unselfishness to become a real boy. Despite enormous odds, Pinocchio is going after the dragon.
This sequence in the film is filled with Christian metaphor. In the story of Jonah and the Whale, God sends a whale to swallow Jonah for trying to get out of his responsibility to God. The people that wrote the bible didn't know exactly what whales were. They didn't know that they were very large underwater mammals. The ancients viewed whales as enormous fish.
Fish are the universal symbol for Jesus Christ. Followers of Christ were known as "fishermen". Christ performed a famous miracle with fish. You may be familiar with the saying, "Instead of giving a man a fish, make him a fisherman." One path is immediate gratification and the other path is more fruitful but takes more responsibility and discipline.
Why does the conflict take place at the bottom of the ocean? Well, the hero must enter hell to confront chaos and save his father. If heaven was a location far above the horizon into infinite space, then hell was a place far below the earth. The bottom of the ocean is as good a place as any for hell to be located.
Pinocchio and Jiminy are swallowed by Monstro when the whale encounters a large school of fish. Geppetto in his state of hunger is excitingly catching fish so that could finally eat. He catches Pinocchio and they are reunited. Geppetto has the short sighted goal of eating dinner, Pinocchio has his eye on the prize of escaping Monstro.
Pinocchio builds a fire with the goal of causing enough smoke to make Monstro sneeze them out. Geppetto warns "That will make him very angry!" Now, Monstro truly becomes a fire-breathing dragon.
Then all hell breaks loose. Monstro sneezes Geppetto's raft out of his stomach and they escape. Monstro is furious and looks to ravish the small raft. Pinocchio and Geppetto are whipped to and fro by the furious whale and they somehow wind up on the shore. Once Geppetto awakens he calls for Pinocchio and Jiminy finds him in a pool of water, dead.
The surviving characters bring Pinocchio's lifeless body home to mourn his passing. They lay him down on the bed when suddenly the Blue Fairy reappears to grant Pinocchio his life back. Pinocchio has proven himself brave, truthful and unselfish by making the ultimate sacrifice to save his father. Pinocchio is resurrected from death like the biblical Jesus.
The heroes celebrates the joyous miracle with a little accordion party.
The protagonist are happy. Pinocchio becomes a real boy through hardship and bravery and the family is reunited.
But what of The Coachman? Stromboli? Honest John? No consequence besets them. Honest John is still free to temp gullible victims. Stromboli is still a cruel and greedy puppetmaster. The sick Coachman is still out there enslaving children and turning them into braying jackasses. The only happy ending in the story is for Pinocchio's immediate circle. The evildoers are still free to do their evil.
Because that's how the world really works.
When Disney released Pinocchio the nation of Germany was in the process of systematically killing six million Jews, gypsies and homosexuals. The people carrying out these orders were mostly average citizens in good standing in their respective communities, by and large ordinary men. At the Nuremberg Trials they proclaimed that they were "Just following orders."
Put yourself into the shoes of these German soldiers for just a second. Would you be able to stand up to your commanding officers and say "I will not obey these orders."? Would you be able to abandon your fellow soldiers, flee your duty and leave the brutal task of cold blooded murder to your brothers in arms? Would you be strong enough to not succumb to the pressures of outside influence? Would the better angels of your nature be stronger than your duty to your nation?
You Were Born Into This World A Puppet
This is the way things have to be. A child born with no constructs will not survive. We start out pure, brought into this world with every possibility in front of us. The people pulling our strings, our parents, then our friends and then society shape our behavior and our worldview.
You will remain a puppet and most likely attach your personality to an ideology at which point you will become a braying jackass.
You will buy into this ideology until you will mindlessly repeat the talking points and then claim them as your own. You will be sold to the salt mines. You will be victimized. You will serve your masters.
Most people will live their lives in the following manner:
Limitless Potential - Puppet - Braying Jackass- Death
Unless you do one of the most difficult things a person can do. Set your vision to the highest version of yourself imaginable. Educate yourself. Discipline your mind and body. Be brave and conscientious. Understand the pure nature of evil and put it to task when you confront it. Become the kind of person worthy of the potential you were given.
Then perhaps your life may play out this way:
Limitless Potential - Puppet - Autonomous Individual- Potential Realized
Look around the world you live in. Look at your Facebook friends. How many are braying jackasses sold to the salt mines? How many are autonomous individuals worthy of admiration? What's the split? 80/20? 90/10?
Where will you fall in? How will you be remembered?