It was Saturday afternoon, in the darkened movie theater of the Shady Oak. Around me other kids fidgeted and munched popcorn. Tentatively, I felt my nose. Unlike Pinocchio’s, it had not grown, despite lies I had told that morning. I squirmed in my seat; my face flushed knowing that scorched place from which this marionette’s tall tales flowed, one after another.

It was 1940. Walt Disney Studios had released an animated film based upon the epic fairy tale-novel, The Adventures of Pinocchio, written by Carlo Collodi in 1883 and set in Tuscan, Italy. An immediate sensation, it was translated into multiple languages—the English version by Mary Alice Murray, in 1892. Unlike Disney’s Pinocchio, however, Collodi’s takes the reader into his struggle to become the living son of the impoverished Geppetto who had carved him from a singing block of wood.

Wayward and petulant, the next morning Pinocchio kills the Talking Cricket crawling on the wall of the cottage and runs away, barreling out of control. A succession of misadventures befalls him: at the Great Marionette Theater; with a host of animals, both tricksters and helpful; at the Land of the Toys where he’s transformed into a donkey; and at the circus. All through these scrapes the spirit of the same Talking Cricket accompanies him and equates his lies to the enlargement of his nose. Even more trauma befalls Pinocchio until his wooden heart becomes one of flesh, and he wakes up as a boy, the son of Geppetto and his wife.

Both Collodi’s and Disney’s versions of this fairy tale offer a simple morality tale for children of any age. It’s about becoming fully human with its joys and foibles.

 

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