Last time, we reviewed The Leprechauns’ Christmas Gold from 1981, a charming little special whose greatest fault lie in the fact that it had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas! Our focus today is on the stop motion Pinocchio’s Christmas (1980), which does a far better job at retelling the general Pinocchio story with a Christmas twist. But which pained my soul greatly in so many other areas.
While most people are probably familiar with the Disney version of Pinocchio (1940), you are probably less acquainted with the original novel by Carlo Collodi. Well, neither am I, but I think Pinocchio’s Christmas actually has a more accurate portrayal of the titular character. In that Pinocchio could be a bit of a jerk, including kicking Geppetto for no reason and throwing a book at Jiminy Cricket (I mean, he’s not named Jiminiy Cricket in this version, but…whatever).
Speaking of Geppetto, I did want to mention that his voice actor is none other than George S. Irving, who also provided the voice for Heat Miser in The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974). This simple fact excited me way more than it should have.
Geppetto is also kind of insane in this. He spends a whole song singing with his reflection in a mirror about how bad he is at picking out good Christmas presents. His reflection sings right back. Either Geppetto is losing it or that mirror is possessed. Folks, if your reflection ever starts acting with a mind of its own, seek help immediately! (On second thought, if your reflection’s singing voice sounds like one of the Miser Brothers, perhaps that’s not so bad.)
It turns out Geppetto (and Geppetto’s evil doppelganger) was being completely fair on his assessment of his gift-buying abilities because he gets Pinocchio a math book for Christmas. (Ah, you might share Heat Miser’s voice, Geppetto, but even the hothead could probably pick out a better gift than that!) Pinocchio wants to sell the book back with the hopes that he’ll make enough money to buy a decent present for Geppetto, but he’s tricked by the conniving Fox and Cat into burying the money so that it will grow into a money tree. Sorry, Pinocchio, my dear, but that trick only works in Animal Crossing.
Well, as expected, the Fox and Cat end up stealing said money (I say this as if the whole money tree idea was actually plausible…), so Pinocchio tries to earn money by working as a puppet for Maestro Fire-Eater (this movie’s version of Stromboli). Fun fact: the character’s name in the novel was Mangiafuoco, which translates to…“Fire-Eater”. Points to Rankin/Bass for accuracy! Ahem, well, Pinocchio becomes enamored with a lifeless puppet named Julietta, whom he ends up running away with when he learns that Maestro Fire-Eater plans to change her into a Magi puppet for an upcoming Christmas show. Pinocchio ends up in the Forest of Enchantment, where we get some backstory into how Pinocchio was created from a magical tree branch that grew in this very forest, hence the reason he’s a living puppet. The Fox and Cat try to trick him once again, but they are scared off by Lady Azura (you probably know her as the Blue Fairy). And this is where I started to lose interest because it feels like the story is now dragging on just for the sake of longevity.
As I mentioned before, a Christmas retelling of Pinocchio actually works surprisingly well. It was just everything else that I really didn’t like. The story should have probably stopped at Pinocchio meeting Lady Azura, reuniting with the Cricket, and lying about his exploits, causing his nose to grow. Because after that, it really started to drag, and I did not need to see more of the Fox and Cat. Unlike Honest John, the fox in the Disney version, this version of the Fox has no charisma whatsoever. And this time, the Cat talks, and her voice is really shaky and unpleasant.
The absolute worst part of this special are the songs, however, which are lazy, annoying, and added proof that they were trying to stretch this movie far longer than it needed to be. One example is a song where Pinocchio keeps singing the words “gonna get lucky, knock on wood”, and it just won’t stop. But the absolute most egregious song in the entire special (and one of the worst Rankin/Bass songs to date) is the one where Pinocchio is teaching toys to dance. And he just keeps repeating “let’s go dancin’” for almost two minutes straight, with almost no change to the lyrics whatsoever. Admittedly, Mother Duck and I were going a bit insane at this point, in such utter shock and awe that this was even happening that neither of us thought to just, you know, fast forward.
Most reviews I found online were positive, and if you’re among the many people who liked this movie, then that’s great. But I just couldn’t stand it. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if some of those awful songs were cut, and it was a bit shorter. But as it is, this was my second least favorite Rankin/Bass special that I’ve seen thus far, with Cricket on the Hearth from 1967 being the only movie which could take credit for being even less tolerable. (Then again, that movie didn’t have a song that was almost two minutes of the word “dancin’”.) So if you’ll excuse me, I need to go listen to some good Rankin/Bass music now. Try and regain some of my lost sanity. ‘Cause I’m (to the tune of “Dancin’”)…
Yes, I’m cringin’
Yes, I’m cryin’
That’s right, cryin’
I’m so sorry.
Previous Rankin/Bass Reviews (and other similar holiday specials)
- Cricket on the Hearth (1967)
- Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971)
- The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)
- The First Easter Rabbit (1976)
- Frosty’s Winter Wonderland (1976)
- Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976)
- The Easter Bunny is Comin’ to Town (1977)
- Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977)
- The Stingiest Man in Town (1978)
- Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979)
- The Leprechauns’ Christmas Gold (1981)
- A Miser Brothers’ Christmas (2008)