Although it may lack the heart-tugging appeal of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," the consensus among animation fans is that 1940's "Pinocchio" (opening today citywide) remains the most perfect animated feature Walt Disney produced--a judgment the newly restored film, with its glowing colors and more clearly visible details, is apt to confirm.
The Disney artists honed Carlo Collodi's rambling fairy tale about an obnoxious living puppet into a virtuoso example of cinematic storytelling. Unlike Cinderella or Snow White, who are entirely good, Pinocchio has to grapple with conflicting impulses: His uncertainty about right and wrong make him an easier character for a child to understand.
The animation itself is refined to the point of virtual perfection. Pinocchio moves with a combination of awkwardness and ease that suggests a living wooden figure; Jiminy Cricket's gestures are so perfectly timed, it's easy to forget he's animated--he just lives. Stromboli is a flamboyant masterpiece of mercurial moods, shifting from oily charm to thundering rage in a split second.
The effects animation, used for the translucent shadows and the amazingly realistic water, is as polished as the character work. Every element in "Pinocchio" shimmers with the energy of young artists reveling in their newly discovered powers of creation.
The film underwent extensive cleaning and restoration for this release, and the new prints showcase its intricately detailed style: The artists delighted in filling every available inch of the frame with color and motion. The walls of Geppetto's shop can barely contain all the animated clocks. During the climactic escape from the whale's gullet, every element on the screen is in motion--Monstro, Geppetto, Jiminy, Pinocchio--as well as the smoke, water and sea gulls.