Pinocchio (1940) - Pick
Max Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels (1939) - Pass
Chicken Run (2000) - Pick
This week, a pair of venerable animated allegories from animation archrivals Disney and Max Fleischer celebrate 70th anniversaries with new DVD editions and Blu-ray debuts — even though one is celebrating a year early.
That would be Disney’s Pinocchio — and early or not, the new DVD/Blu-ray release is certainly worth celebrating. (Disney plays fast and loose with anniversary dates: A few weeks ago, the 1988 Oliver & Company got a belated “20th anniversary” edition.)
The film itself is one of Disney’s towering early masterpieces, along with Snow White, Fantasia and Bambi, and it may be the best — emotionally resonant, visually dazzling, imaginatively captivating, thematically fecund.
Based on the 1883 children’s story by Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio is in spirit a classical European fairy tale, full of wonder and terror, implacable moralism and providential hope.
The story of a little wooden boy, loved by his father, Geppetto, guided by a cricket for a conscience, and aided by an angelic fairy, offers a cornucopia of moral themes: the necessity of becoming “real” through moral effort; the disfiguring, insidious effects of lying and other “asinine” forms of misbehavior; the moral dangers of worldly influences and peer pressure; even the necessity of grace.
In a canny marketing move, the two-disc Blu-ray edition includes a standard DVD disc, so even if you have no immediate plans to get a Blu-ray player, it still makes sense to buy the Blu-ray. Bonus features include an audio commentary featuring Leonard Maltin, a making-of featurette, deleted scenes and more.
Max Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels, also returning to DVD and debuting on Blu-ray, really is 70 years old — but alas, it’s no classic. I’m calling it a borderline “pass,” though to be fair, children may enjoy it, and serious animation buffs may appreciate it historically.
Gulliver isn’t bad work, but it lacks artistic distinction and the inspiration of the best Disney. The Fleischers were pioneers and produced some great shorts, but they were weak on storytelling fundamentals like characterization and drama, as well as thematic heft.
Gulliver is blandly genial, the Lilliputian Gabby is annoying, and no one else is much better. Mostly unmemorable songs, and there’s little left — though the Fleischers’ love of process and technical problem-solving enlivens some sequences, notably the binding of Gulliver.
Finally, Aardman’s charming Chicken Run also debuts on Blu-ray this week. A delightful stop-motion animation from the Wallace & Gromit folks, Chicken Run spoofs World War II POW-escape movies in a wacky tale of chickens trying to escape from an English chicken farm. Mel Gibson gives a self-kidding performance as a circus rooster, and Julia Sawalha (“Absolutely Fabulous”) is the plucky (sorry) heroine. Great fun.
CONTENT ADVISORY: Pinocchio: Fairy-tale scariness and frightening images. Might frighten sensitive youngsters. Gulliver’s Travels: Nothing problematic. Okay family viewing. Chicken Run: Menace to chickens; fleeting mild innuendo. Fine family viewing.