Un-Disneyfying the Classics, One by One

Long time no blog. So here’s an easy cut-and-paste review I wrote on Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, a book that has suffered the slings and arrows of Disney’s juggernaut. The only way to “un-Disney-fy,” then, is to actually read the books Disney pillaged (in Viking slash Tinkerbell fashion). This book is a case and point. In short, tell Mikey: “I liked it!”

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pinocchio

Is this YA? Children’s literature? God only knows. If it can be seen one way by children and another by adults, it’s… God only knows.

So let’s dispense with labels, boxes, and kindling why don’t we. I read this book’s 160 pages in no-time (myspeak for “two days”). It was simplistically compelling. Or compellingly simple. Wood. Boy. Dummy. No, make that puppet. One who out-lazies Tom Sawyer, even. The rural Italian word for him, then, is “scamp.” Or “rascal,” if you will.

The best part about reading Pinocchio for the first time is unlearning Disney. Not that I can recall watching the Disney movie. I cannot recall watching many Disney movies at all. But I surely HAVE seen clips from it. As clips, Disney fare is unavoidable.

Imagine my delight, then, when the cricket appears early in this book without the name of “Jiminy.” Imagine my further delight, then, when said talking cricket (called, ingeniously enough, “Talking Cricket”) chastises young (unseasoned?) Pinocchio only to have the upstart puppet nail him on the wall with a mallet.

Crunch.

And the cricket’s last words are “cree-cree-cree” before it unpeals from the wall and dies.

Fear not, however. Most every critter that dies in this book is born again. The Buddhists would be proud. As they would about Pinocchio’s samsara-like travails, wherein he constantly tries and fails to be good, tries and fails to be obedient, tries and fails to be industrious and loyal and kind. Puppets will be puppets, after all.

Another enjoyable aspect to this wonderfully-art-worked text from nyrb is its sly, tongue-in-wooden cheek moments. When the rogue boys are attacking Pinocchio with their hated schoolbooks, one of them hurls a text written by some Collodi fellow. (Wink.) Collodi (pen name) even takes a shot at a group that gets away with murder in this country but is more distrusted in others (and certainly in the past): doctors.

“[The doctor] felt Pinocchio’s pulse, then he felt his nose, then he felt his little toe, and when he had finished feeling all these things very carefully, he solemnly pronounced these words: ‘It is my opinion that the puppet is quite dead. But if by some strange chance he is not dead, then that would be a sure sign that he is still alive.'”

Doctors. They’re never wrong. Said doctor (a crow, in Collodi’s tale) follows up with even better:

“‘When a dead person cries, it’s a sign that he’s on the mend.'”As they say in hockey: “Sco-o-o-o-ore!!!”

OK, so a fun and easy read. One that sets the record straight — the book has succeeded all these years because of its violence and dark undertones. And it’s talking animals. And its admirable little scamp of a rogue chunk of wood. If he barks up another tree and turns all treacly-good at the end, oh well. The same happened to Tolstoy, and no one held it against him any….

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