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  Magical World of Pinocchio, The Made from a tree but he's like you and me!
Year: 1972
Director: Seitaro Hara, Ippei Kuri
Stars: Thor Bishopric, Walter Massey, A.J. Henderson, Arthur Grosser, Hiroko Maruyama, Minoru Yada
Genre: Animated, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: One night the blue-haired Oak Fairy brings little puppet boy Pinocchio (voiced by Thor Bishopric) to life, to the delight of elderly woodcarver Geppetto (Walter Massey) who has always wanted a son. As Pinocchio takes his first faltering steps out into the big, wide world he discovers life is a lot scarier and morally complex than he could have possibly imagined.

Carlo Collodi's much beloved children's book, “The Adventures of Pinocchio” has been something of a touchstone for the Japanese animation industry inspiring both straight adaptations and wild re-imaginings such as Takashi Nakamura's bizarre post-apocalyptic fable A Tree of Palme (2005). The great Osamu Tezuka drew no small amount of inspiration from Pinocchio for his seminal robot boy opus, Astro Boy (1963) which of course sparked the entire robot craze that became a staple sub-genre in anime. There were two anime adaptations of Collodi's book produced in the Seventies. Nippon Animation's The Adventures of Pinocchio (1976) proved popular throughout Japan and much of Europe but most English and American viewers are likely more familiar with the earlier Tatsunoko production Kashi no Ki Mokku (Mokku Woody the Oak Tree, later re-titled simply Pinocchio for English viewers more familiar with the original tale) because the dubbed version played on HBO in the early Nineties. Haim Saban and Shuki Levy, the duo who later inflicted Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers upon a helpless world, were behind the English adaptation and also composed the jaunty theme music (“Made from a tree but he's like you and me!”).

Tatsunoko Studios and their guiding light Ippei Kuri – who had some creative input here – were better known for their trail-blazing run of angst-ridden superhero cartoons of which the most famous remains Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (1972), later released Stateside as Battle of the Planets. Visceral action and intense psychological trauma were the order of the day in those action-oriented anime and The Magical World of Pinocchio (a compilation film comprised of five episodes of the original television show) bears the same emotionally intense tone. Throughout the course of this borderline sadistic emotional rollercoaster ride of a story the titular little wooden boy suffers all kinds of hardship, psychological trauma and outright abuse at the hands of a host of terrifying tormentors. Those familiar with the original tale will recognize the fiery puppet-master Stromboli but the anime also adds such unlikely villains as Charlie Mouse who resents Pinocchio for usurping his position as Geppetto's closest friend. So the wee little Mouse has the villainous Fox and Weasel try to drown Pinocchio in the river just so they can steal his school lunch. Later on, a sinister cat (a lot of unfriendly animals in this story) persuades Pinocchio he can become a real boy if he murders a school friend and steals his heart. That's two instances of attempted murder in a kids' movie!

Some commentators maintain the harsh tone with endless hardship visited upon the hero reflect the Japanese belief that suffering shapes good character. Unlike his cheery Disney incarnation this version of Pinocchio retains the brattier aspects of Collodi's original creation. At times he is shrill, whiny and undeniably selfish. However, he remains an engagingly flawed hero capable of learning from his mistakes and blessed with an inquisitive mind and philosophical inclinations. Using the idea of the puppet at the mercy of someone pulling its strings as a broader metaphor the plot charts Pinocchio's growing self-awareness which dovetails with Collodi's original message about education and good moral conduct being the pathways to a socially liberated existence. Contrasted with the darker storylines the art direction and character design are vibrant, colourfully whimsical. These were the work of teenage prodigy Yoshitaka Amano who went on to great fame and fortune as both a fine artist and console game chara designer feted for his work on the Final Fantasy games.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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