The opening of the 1940 Disney animated classic “Pinocchio” may well be the most perfect piece of Disney filmmaking ever. Spiritual, magical, poignant, and deeply intimate, the setup of this film reflects the heart of what a Disney film is, and what Walt Disney poured into all of the films he placed his hands on.
At the beginning of “Pinocchio,” we meet a gentle man with a big heart and a peaceful conscience who is lonely for a son of his own: Geppetto. Geppetto is a simple man. He’s a wood carver, he’s poor, and his accommodations are humble. He carries on conversations with his cat and his fish. Geppetto’s whimsical, perhaps a bit eccentric, but the fantastic mechanical carvings that fill his workshop offer a glimpse of who he is. He’s a dreamer, and the wonderment of his personality can be seen in what he creates out of mere wood: He makes life where there was none. And in the spirit of his greatest wish, a son, he creates Pinocchio, and that night, he wishes upon a star.
Is there anything more beautiful than for a man’s greatest wish to be fatherhood?
The film opens with perhaps the most magical song of all time, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington and sung by Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards). The song won the 1940 Academy Award for Best Song, and is best-known as the fanfare for Walt Disney Pictures. There’s little doubt that the whole idea of wishing on a star could sum up Walt Disney’s guiding principle: It seemed to be the very core of what drove him.
Geppetto’s wish of Pinocchio becoming a real boy is indeed granted, but also depends on Pinocchio living up to the moral end of the bargain. By the end of the film, Geppetto and Pinocchio have been on a fabled epic journey together, which took them from faraway lands and encounters with rogue characters and criminals to the belly of a whale and back again. Pinocchio lets both himself and his dad down: He lies, he abandons his father, he loses sight of his goals and promises, and he gives up on his dreams and on himself. Geppetto, on the other hand, proves himself over and over as a man worthy of being a father. He never gives up on Pinocchio: He travels far and wide, risks his life for his son, and remains loyal. Geppetto’s steadfast kindness and strength are what pull Pinocchio back onto the right path. He’s a dad when Pinocchio needs a dad most. He’s brave, kind, honest, and forgiving.
Geppetto is a great role model, and his relationship with Pinocchio is such a testament to the way fathers and sons (and daughters) are moral partners in the adventures of living an honorable life. The film celebrates life and parenthood as a gift, and honors the dreams and wishes in our hearts as attainable. Pinocchio is a great example of the spirit of all Disney films, and all real Disney dads.